The Art Couple

written by Brendan Hunt (Absolutely Filthy)
directed by Lauren Van Kurin

FEBRUARY 16 - MARCH 17, 2018
FINAL EXTENSION - MUST CLOSE APRIL 21!
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
, Sundays @ 7pm
(No performance Sunday, March 4)
Previews: Fri-Sat, Feb. 9-10 @ 8pm
Understudy show: Thursday, March 1 @ 8pm

Tickets: $15 (Previews: $10)

WORLD PREMIERE! Long before Felix met Oscar, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were ill-fitting roommates in the south of France; a fateful co-habitation that would change the face of art - and Van Gogh's face, too. It's a lesser-known tidbit of theatre history that these two masters were also the subjects of Neil Simon's original draft of "The Odd Couple." Sacred Fools now presents the first-ever performance of this abandoned script, and the odd tale of how it was written. Based on an untrue telling of a true story.

Performing in the Broadwater Black Box (Entrance at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.)

Reviews

"...director Lauren Van Kurin... combin[es] tones of nimble playfulness with moving grandiloquence - thanks also to her terrific ensemble." -Steven Leigh Morris, Stage Raw

"Hunt's writing is a roller coaster ride of flagrant disregard for decorum and gut-punching poignancy that offers an inside look at the price of genius." -Ellen Dostal, Broadway World HOT LIST

"RECOMMENDED / TOP TEN ...a ton of laughs..." -Lovell Estell III, Stage Raw

"...an ingenious script... 'The Art Couple' is the richest situation comedy that I have ever seen on stage. It keeps the audience in stitches for two full acts... a must see..." -Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

"...the Venn diagram where high art intersects with fart jokes." -Anthony Byrnes, KCRW

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Awards

Nominated for a Stage Raw Award!
Video/Projection Design - Corwin Evans

Friday, February 23: DONATE WHAT YOU CAN. It's "Pay What You Can" with a twist! Half of all proceeds for this performance will be donated to WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills to empower teen girls. "Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen.". Purchase tickets now!

Video

Photos

Cast

Brendan Hunt as Vincent van Gogh
Bryan Bellomo as Paul Gauguin
Clayton Farris as Neil Simon
Ryan Patrick Welsh as Steve, the Busboy
Marie-Francoise Theodore as Rachel / Madame Ginoux
Kristyn Evelyn as August / Angelique Alouette
Laura Nicole Harrison as Henry / Scamp / Toinette Alouette / Dancer
Joel Scher as George / Artie / Roulin / Theo / Inspector Mureé

Understudies

James Kirkland as Vincent van Gogh
Peter Fluet as Paul Gauguin
Adam Meredith as Neil Simon
Andrew James Villareal as Steve, the Busboy
Angela Sauer as Rachel / Madame Ginoux
Emily Clark as August / Angelique Alouette
Madeleine Heil as Henry / Scamp / Toinette Alouette / Dancer
Ryan Gowland as George / Artie / Roulin / Theo / Inspector Mureé

Crew

Produced for Sacred Fools by Bruno Oliver
Assistant Director - Alicia Conway Rock
Stage Manager - Rachel Manheimer
Set Designer - DeAnne Millais
Costume Designer - Linda Muggeridge
Sound Designer - Ben Rock
Projection Designer - Corwin Evans
Lighting Designer - Andrew Schmedake
Properties Designer - Ashley Crow
Fight Choreographer - Trampas Thompson
Painting Consultant - Professor Kenny Harris
French Language Consultant - Alexandra Sloan Kelly
Vocal / Music Consultant - Crystal Keith
Assistant Stage Manager - Therese Olson
Light Crew - Michael Shaw Fisher
Scenic Painting - DeAnne Millais & Hillary Bauman
Scenic Builders - Aaron Francis & Joe Jordan
Publicity & Show Photography - Darrett Sanders
Graphic Design (Key Art) - Katelyn Schiller

- Sacred Fools Company Member

Reviews

Stage Raw (Recommended / Top Ten)

Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Neil Simon: two icons of the brush and canvass, another of the written word and stage, are all cleverly brought together in this striking world premiere by playwright Brendan Hunt.

Hurt has drawn on an interesting slice of art history for his script. Gauguin and Van Gough briefly lived together in the Yellow House in Arles France in 1888, ostensibly to connect with their respective muses (it wasn't a pleasant parting; some nine weeks later, Van Gogh lost an ear). The play opens with a high-spirited poker game in the residence of pointillist painter Georges Seurat (Joel Scher), whose famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte," is propped against the wall in full view. Present are Auguste Rodin (Kristyn Evelyn), Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (Laura Nicole Harrison), and Gauguin (Bryan Bellomo). The jokes, banter, insults and hilarity swirl around the table like the wind. When the habitually dysphoric and absinthe-addled Van Gogh (Hunt) enters, complete with ginger beard, he announces his intention to start an artist's colony in Arles, and Gauguin reluctantly agrees to join him.

From this notable gathering, we shift to the Village Gate jazz club in New York, 1963, where a lone figure sits at a table, furiously scribbling away. It's last call, and Neil Simon (Adam Meredith), is struggling to find the words for a play he has already sold the rights to. He is befriended by the handsome busboy Steve (Ryan Patrick Welsh), who convinces him to decamp with him to the Catskills so that he can find his muse and write the play. Back and forth in time, we watch these parallel scenarios and artistic worlds unfold and overlap, with a ton of laughs along the way, under the smart direction of Lauren Van Kurin. Hunt instills Van Gogh with a hilarious mix of eccentricity, pining emotional needs, and eerie obsessiveness, in blaring contrast to Bellomo's Gauguin, who is confident, boastful, and oddly charming. They are, indeed, an odd couple.

The ensemble does a splendid job in multiple roles. Marie-Françoise Theodore does a stellar turn as both the mouthy prostitute Rachel and the elegant Madame Giroux. Corwin Evans' superb projection design and Andrew Schmedake's lighting impart an alluring intimacy to the collage of paintings featured throughout. The set design by DeAnne Millais is simple but effective, allowing audience viewing from opposite sides, while Linda Muggeridge provides a stylish assortment of costumes.

--Lovell Estell III
Ⓒ 2018 Stage Raw

Broadway World (HOT LIST)

This world premiere sitcom-style play written by and starring Brendan Hunt as Vincent van Gogh (yes, that one) finds Neil Simon suffering from writer's block while working on THE ODD COUPLE until a mysterious bus boy offers up inspiration in an absurdly comic turn of events. It boasts not one odd couple among its cast of characters but two - the second consisting of van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, who had been roommates in Arles, France for a short time in 1888 - three, if you count a pair of dizzy sisters from the circus who show up in Act II. Hunt's writing is a roller coaster ride of flagrant disregard for decorum and gut-punching poignancy that offers an inside look at the price of genius. If you like a wacky theatrical world, this one's for you.

--Ellen Dostal
Ⓒ 2018 Broadway World

Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

The publicity graphic for Sacred Fools' new production is a split screen image of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh rendered in painterly fashion on panels that represent the style of each artist. Hints of conflict are shown. Gauguin stares out holding a fencing foil in his hand while Vincent stoops over with an open bottle of Absinthe wedged under his arm and spilling out as he gazes bemusedly at the sunflower he apparently has just painted on Gauguin's white shirt. It is captivating, irresistible. Why resist? The show fulfills the promise of the graphic beyond whatever one might imagine.

The world premiere production of The Art Couple boasts an ingenious script by playwright Brendan Hunt. Yes, the play is about the famous relationship between the two artists who lived together for a time in the south of France, which was detailed in spectacular fashion in the film, Lust for Life that featured Kirk Douglas as van Gogh and Anthony Quinn as Gauguin, but that scenario is but an element of an über-story. Any notion that we are dealing with history flies out the window when, after the houselights dim, projections of printed letters appear on the walls above the stage accompanied by the clacking sound of a typewriter - Paris-1888. Okay, let's go.

The lights come up on a card game in the apartment of pointillist painter, Georges Seurat (Joel Scher). Seurat's famous painting, "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," leans against the wall. He is playing poker with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Laura Harrison), Auguste Rodin (Kristyn Evelyn), and Gauguin (Bryan Bellomo). It is a scene of high hilarity of Marx Brothers caliber verging on the slapstick. The comedic stakes are jacked up when van Gogh appears tall and dour, with his famous ginger beard and hair. The role of Vincent is a brilliantly rendered in a go-for-broke, tour de force performance by the playwright, Brendan Hunt. As Gauguin, Mr. Bellomo is suave. He gets on with women and seems lazy in his craft. He is the perfect opposite of van Gogh, a notorious oddball, an obsessive, singularly focused, quasi-religious man devoid of manners. Vincent is intense, focusing on creating an artists colony in the town of Arles. The only one who will agree to join him is Gauguin, and then only because he is down to has last sou.

Now, here is the promised über-story. With the sound of the clacking typewriter and printing on the walls, we are now in a jazz club in the Village circa 1963. It's closing time and Neil Simon (Clayton Farris) has been writing in a notebook for hours. Steve the Busboy (Ryan Patrick Welsh) is cleaning up. He is friendly, young, tall, handsome, and speaks with a slight drawl. He strikes up a conversation with the playwright, who is in writer's block hell as he tries to come up with a script for a play he has committed to write. What play? Let's just say that the two stories overlap and parallel each other, shifting back and forth in time. The Art Couple is the richest situation comedy that I have ever seen on stage. It keeps the audience in stitches for a two full acts.

The ensemble of protean actors, Marie-Francoise Theodore, and the aforementioned Joel Scher, Laura Harrison, and Kristyn Evelyn, take on multiple roles performing with gusto and complete abandon. Ms. Theodore plays a sassy, buxom not-to-be-messed with prostitute, as well as the demure, but sharp-tongued Mme. Ginoux, who sat for portraits by both artists. Ms. Harrison and Ms. Evelyn are an absolute hoot as a pair of circus acrobats brought home as dates by Gauguin. They are totally, delightfully uninhibited as they giggle, simper, and flaunt their femininity. And Mr. Sher, arch and petulant as Seurat, becomes giddy as Vincent's brother, Theo, and Clouseau-like as Inspector Mureé.

Director Lauren Van Kurin keeps the pace fast and furious, while allowing for some necessary breathers. DeAnne Millais's set design is configured in tennis-court fashion with the audience on two sides facing each other. The set walls have old-timey wainscoting that works well in either the 19th or 20th century. Fresh off his Ovation Award win for the Soul City production, Plasticity, the projection design by Corwin Evans, with its countless images of art appearing on opposing walls, is nothing short of brilliant. The lighting design by Andrew Schmedake (who also just won an Ovation Award for 33 Variations at the Actors Co-op) fits hand-in-glove with the projections. Ben Rock's sound design is terrific with a playlist of music both modern and impressionist. Costumes by Linda Muggeridge enhance both period and action. I appreciated the detailed properties design by Ashley Crow. And fight choreography by Trampas Thompson has a struggle between the principal actors the like of which I have never seen. The stage is exceedingly well managed by Rachel Manheimer.

Produced by Bruno Oliver, Sacred Fools Theatre Company's The Art Couple is a must see, and, with a modest ticket price that has a guarantee that no patron will pay more than $15, what excuse is there for not seeing this extraordinary production? Parking? Easy. I have never been further away from the theatre than two and a half blocks.

--Paul Myrvold
Ⓒ 2018 Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

KCRW: All Things Considered

I want you to imagine the Venn diagram where high art intersects with fart jokes.

That sweet spot, if you want to call it that, is the where Sacred Fools latest show "The Art Couple" lives.

The setup for the show is several duos and time periods so stick with me.

The play opens in 1888, Paris and introduces us to the unlikely future roommates Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh - and to give you a sense of the show's humor there's a whole phlegmatic comedy bit that pokes fun at the difficulty of pronouncing Vincent's name. We learn during a poker game played by Georges Seurat, Auguste Rodin, Toulouse Lautrec, and Gauguin that the somewhat crazy Vincent Van Gogh is trying to start an artists' colony in Arles and he'd love them all to come join him. Vincent, or as this show often calls him, Vinnie is a handful. He's an obsessive and seems to be constantly threatening suicide. That's too much for the other artists to handle but Gauguin's short of cash and despite his dysentery (cue the bathroom humor), Gauguin says what the hell.

So here we have our artistic odd couple - which leads to our historical parallel in 1963.

Next scene has us at the Village Gate jazz club watching Neil Simon scribble furiously in a notebook. It's the end of the evening. A bus boy is getting ready to kick this distracted writer out when he strikes up a conversation. Turns out Mr. Simon has just been paid a bundle for his next script. Trouble is the only thing he's got is a title "The Odd Couple." Other than that he's totally blocked. This mysterious, rugged busboy has an idea - he's got to head to the Catskills, why doesn't Mr. Simon join him and get back to his artistic roots, stop writing all that Broadway cotton candy and make some real art.

So those are our two couples and of course, with a script like this, the worlds are going to coincidentally collide often with some really broad humor.

"The Art Couple" is sort of an odd duck and in many ways echoes the work of Sacred Fools.

On one hand, there's a sort of intriguing central question that seems to be driving at the difference between dedicated artists and commercial hacks. It's trafficking in a recognition of major works of art and the idea that the audience knows enough to laugh at a joke whose punchline is pointillism.

On the other hand, well . . . dysentery.

This is also a play with fart jokes, simple humor, and comically pasted on beards that leave you wondering who the joke is on.

Like a lot of Sacred Fools shows it has the feeling of being a really long skit. But then it has a couple of performances that are much deeper than they have any right to be. The playwright Brendan Hunt, who also plays Van Gogh and Ryan Patrick Welsh, who plays that busboy, both give performance that make you yearn for the play to be better, for the basic idea to get more complicated, for this meditation on art to take itself more seriously.

But that's not this play and that's not Sacred Fools. And honestly, that's simple and great. You'll leave feeling smarter than the play but you'll also laugh at more than one dumb joke. And that's fun.

--Anthony Byrnes
Ⓒ 2018 KCRW (All Things Considered)

Feature Article

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD.

A Letter from Neil Simon
Reflections on Brendan Hunt's The Art Couple

In August, 1997, I received a letter from Neil Simon. It was in response to a largely negative review of Simon's play, Proposals, that I'd written in the LA Weekly. The play had been performed at The Ahmahnson Theatre and was headed to New York. When I saw the small blue envelope in my company mail slot, with "Neil Simon" embossed on the cover, and my name typed on the other side, both a thrill and a chill ran through me.

With hands trembling, I carefully tore open the envelope to unveil and unfold a three-page, hand-typed rebuttal to my review. I mention hand-typed, because computers and computer-printers were already in wide use at that time. The very format was an indication of long-held habits, and of care.

For slightly over 20 years, I've held onto that letter. For a reason I can't fathom myself, I never framed it. Rather, I've kept it in a Ziploc bag to help preserve it. I've never written about it before, nor have I mentioned it in public, with the possible exception of showing it to my editors at the time, and at the LA Weekly Awards meeting following its arrival, attended entirely by my colleagues.

Here, I'm breaking that silence, first because it's now been over 20 years, but mainly because it speaks almost directly to a production that opened on Friday at Sacred Fools Theater Company, Brendan Hunt's The Art Couple. Simon's letter is, in fact, a letter of support for Hunt's compassionate portrayal of Simon in the play, tenderly rendered by Clayton Farris, who wanders through Hunt's surreal landscape with an expression of bemused perplexity.

I've never socialized with Neil Simon. I've heard gossip about his character, but for me, whoever he is resides in his plays, and his plays reveal who he is - which is essentially Hunt's point. Simon's character similarly resides in his own letter, which ruminates on his upbringing and temperament, and also illustrates them. The letter is vaguely annoyed, world-weary, world-wise, and fundamentally generous.

From the body of his plays, I "diagnosed" the motives of Neil Simon in the pages of LA Weekly, as I suppose all critics do to authors, and vice versa - as evidenced in Simon's letter. My larger complaint with Neil Simon was that he is always circling around painful truths with rim-shot jokes and Borscht Belt rhythms, which of course stem from his upbringing and which also deflect from whatever pain he is trying to confront. Years later, I find that assessment facile.

Simon was and, to some extent, remains part of a culture which jokes its way around despair, as both a style and a means of coping with it - as though horrors don't need to be unearthed, because anybody who knows anything about anything understands the existence of horror. Why dwell on it? You can just point to pain with a well-timed quip, and everybody gets it. Any more than that would be both crass and morbid.

In Hunt's fiction, Simon runs into an aspiring playwright and busboy name Steve (Sam) Shepard (Ryan Patrick Welsh), in a 1964 East Village bar. Shepard has much the same facile complaint with Neil Simon as I once did, about evading versus confronting pain in one's art. The Art Couple's conceit is that the two writers latch on to each other, and with Simon's very reluctant and temporary consent, agree to collaborate on a new play, The Odd Couple, that Simon is wrestling with. The Odd Couple is an already commissioned comedy for which Simon has been heftily paid (to the fury of Shepard - how dare they?) - the problem being that Simon has a play title and nothing else: not an actual word on the page. In Simon's imagination, however, he knows his play will consist of two divorced men living together - one a neurotic, fastidious housekeeper and the other a slob. "Very simple," Simon insists in Hunt's play, a simplicity that will be the key to its commercial success. (The Odd Couple became a hit on Broadway from 1965 to 1967 starring Art Carney and Walter Matthau; it was released as a film in 1968 starring Matthau and Jack Lemmon, and become a TV series in the 1970s, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.)

Shepard mocks Simon: Alright, two "non-gay" men living together. Right.

Commercial success is of less interest to the monk-like Shepard, who insists that Broadway is dying, and that the key to artistic success lies in the purity of art and of unmasking long-veiled truths, rather than joking around them and placating popular tastes. Shepard suggests that if Simon would take his calling more seriously, he has the talent to land a Pulitzer Prize, which is clearly Shepard's intention for himself. Simon's eyes roll at this. What planet does this cowboy-hipster think he's living on? (Shepard won 10 Obie-awards and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his play, Buried Child.)

Here is the tortured, starving genius versus the rich comedian who instinctively sniffs out how to make a buck in the theater, and in the movies and on TV.

This duality shows up in numerous other odd couples in the play, but it also shows up in Simon's letter: He writes about it via Chekhov's The Seagull, and the tortured playwright Treplev versus the rich, successful author Trigorin, whom the purist Treplev accuses of mediocrity and of selling out. (In that play, when Treplev finally gains fame, he recognizes how his own mediocre tropes have garnered him success.)

On a side note, Simon also mentions Sam Shepard in the letter, and refers to writing "from conviction," as well as "selling out." In Hunt's fantasia, the accusation of "selling out" is Shepard's poison dart against Simon. But in his letter to me, Simon mentions that he writes from conviction, his conviction, which is the opposite of selling out. I believe him now, as I believed him then. Perhaps the cliche of the tortured artist starving in a garret and spurned by society for creating art from personal conviction, versus the wealthy, successful star who sells out by placating popular taste is a false dichotomy, a folly. That's what Hunt ultimately settles on. If a playwright such as Neil Simon or Lin-Manuel Miranda can write from conviction and still be the most commercially successful playwrights in America, in their respective eras, success and "selling out" may not necessarily be as interwoven as Hunt's Sam Shepard claims, or, for that matter, as Chekhov's Treplev.

In Hunt's invention, Shepard imagines The Odd Couple being set in 1880s Arles, France, a village outside Paris where the fastidious Paul Gauguin (Bryan Bellomo) reluctantly consents to join the brash, lunatic absinthe-addicted Vincent van Gogh (Hunt) in an art colony, where they can concentrate on their art, without the diversions of the city, or of the commerce it traffics in. Besides, Gauguin has nothing better to do at the time. Had his paintings been selling, he'd never have left Paris.

And so, Hunt asks on multiple planes and time zones, what drives people to create art? Is art, at core, a theological or a commercial calling? And this is precisely the question roiling our own theater community, where hundreds of artists argue for the former, in the face of the national stage actors' union, which argues for the latter.

For this reason, the play is potently relevant to a cultural conundrum - or is it? Honestly now, do we live in a culture where any value except financial profit can be given serious consideration?

Having set up his core duality, Hunt methodically dismantles it. By play's end, the prolific van Gogh, who hasn't a care in the world what anyone thinks of his paintings, or who will buy them, fully understands that he will be brightest commercial star of his cadre. He paints because he has to paint. End of story. He doesn't frequent the galleries of Paris, or flatter patrons. He just paints. He is both starving artist and commercial superstar of the future.

Hunt doesn't so much as commit to an argument as goof with the paradox he sets up. His point, like the pointillism of painter George Seurat (Joel Scher) lies more in schematics than in any particular conviction. Hunt leaves conviction to his artists, and he lets them ramble and amble through their multitudinous planes, and internal contradictions and hypocrisies.

Hunt may be acting out the role of Vincent van Gogh on the stage, and with a striking man-child charisma, but it's Neil Simon who lives as the soul of Hunt's play. The Art Couple is propelled largely by the same style of rim-shot jokes, the same exasperated expressions on the faces of his characters, and from similar absurdities as you'll find in Simon's The Odd Couple and Lost in Yonkers.

True, van Gogh's severed ear gets flung around the stage while characters scream hysterically, and you might ask, is this Sam Shepard's influence, or Neil Simon's? Is this moment the unearthing of hidden pain? I don't think so. In Simon's Proposals, a string of characters lines up facing the audience at the funeral of somebody's pet bird, which, with the timing of the pauses and the eulogies, is one of the funniest scenes in the play. It is theme and variation on Hunt's severed ear-scene, though obviously the ear is more grotesque. But it is farce nonetheless, which is part of Neil Simon's arsenal.

Shepard trafficked more in Theatre of the Absurd - that blend of absurdity and dream, which is fundamentally different from farce. I would argue that in so many ways, The Art Couple derives from Neil Simon, more than from Sam Shepard or Vincent van Gogh, despite the efforts of director Lauren Van Kurin to transform it into a dream.

Her loving production in the theater's Black Box space has the audience bifurcated and staring at each other on two seating banks. Her sitcom acting style surges with classical music and projected Impressionist-era paintings (Corwin Evans), combining tones of nimble playfulness with moving grandiloquence - thanks also to her terrific ensemble.

But back to Neil Simon: All you need to know, reading his rebuttal, are two statements that obviously aroused him: I wrote that Simon was actually aspiring to be Anton Chekhov, and that Proposals revealed how Simon was "kind, clever and wise."

So here's Neil Simon's letter, in its entirety. As you'll see, it ricochets off the core ideas in The Art Couple, and, similarly, now speaks to us from the vantage of an earlier century. What strikes me in retrospect is a kind of poignancy - that the most commercially successful playwright in the United States through a span of decades, a man who has a Broadway theater named after him, fully comprehends that his devices of humor and rhythm, stemming as he says directly from the truth of his convictions, no longer have the grip they once did. And for a writer true to his own convictions, there's not a whole lot to be done about that, other than yield - okay, now it's somebody else's turn. And that's the bitch of having a long career as an artist in a world that keeps changing faster and faster, whether you're starving in a garret or a superstar.

August 12 [1997]

Dear Steven Leigh Morris,

Surely I have a great many things more important to do than to write to a critic who has just given me pretty much a negative review but that's not the reason for this letter. I actually like your writing. Very often over a sandwich for lunch in Westwood, I'll pickup the LA Weekly, or even some other publication not unlike your paper and say to myself, "You know something? Some of these young guys are better reviewers and better writers than you find in the more established and popular newspapers, include the LA Times and a few others." (Am I only assuming you're young? Anyone under forty to me is young.) The only difference, I suppose is that reviewers writing for a publication with a larger circulation probably have an obligation to tell their readers that you may be wasting your 20 or 50 dollars going to see this thing, while I don't think you have any obligation other than to your own sensibilities, which is what permits you to be more erudite, more honest and possible more interesting. I found your review interesting, although I disagree with a few points here and there, but nothing really to upset my sensibilities.

In the first place, it doesn't plague me that I never will be Chekhov. I think it's in "The Seagull", (I could be wrong about this) but in it, the writer Trigorin says to the young girl who holds him in the greatest esteem as a writer and thinks how wonderful it must be to be him, (and I paraphrase because I do not have the play there in front of me), "ah, but people will walk by my grave one day and say, 'Yes, Yes, a very good writer, but not as good as Tolstoy. Not as good as Turgeniev.'" Chekhov, of course, was talking about himself and if he was having that problem, why should I stay up nights worrying that I am not as good as Chekhov? Who is, for that matter? David Mamet? Sam Shepard? Both good writers. But none of us are Chekhov. Not even Chekhov thought he was as good as Chekhov, so I've put that one to rest.

I also didn't think for a moment that I was stealing some of the footprints laid down in "Uncle Vanya". I know the play very well and when you compare me to it, even unfavorably, you compliment me. The only reason anyone even mentions that "Proposals" pretends to be Chekhov is that my play is set outdoors. I could possibly see your point if I had a samovar on the table but that was not what I was after. Mostly I had to write a play that got out of the God damn house. And especially in Brooklyn, where I did not grow up, but that's another story. That I write funny (which is not necessarily vaudevillian humor) I will plead guilty. At least you give me my due. "Nobody can match him." I appreciate that. You're obviously bright enough to know that writing a play is hard and writing a play that is truly funny is a kind of miracle. If everyone could do it, Broadway would be glutted with them. But where are they? They've gone, the good ones and the bad ones, only to be shoved out of their theaters with musicals and more musicals. I also agree that I am kind, clever and wise but I really do think I have written two transcendent plays, "The Odd Couple" because it will be around long after you and I are dead, no matter how young you are, and also "Lost in Yonkers". That's of course, my opinion.

If Chekhov were alive today and writing the same plays anew that he left as his legacy, they not only would not run long on Broadway, they would be hard pressed to push "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" out of a theater. I agree with you. I would prefer Chekhov. But that's not the world we live in today.

Ms. Weiner, in the LA Times, led off her review with, "As expected, 'Proposals' is wise and witty, but far too mellow," or something like that. I rarely remember the exact quotes of reviews because there are so damn many of them. So I am found guilty because, once again, I wrote, as expected, wise and witty. So I not only have to stop writing Chekhov, I have to stop writing as expected.

I have no complaints. I agree with some of your complaints, which is why I keep working on the play as you're reading this, and will continue to until it reaches New York in the fall. But you won't like it there either because it will still be funny and I still won't be Chekhov. One day you might write about some playwright, that he might be suffering play after play, that he is not Neil Simon. I wouldn't know. I'll be gone by then."

But still I liked your review and I am glad there is someone in this town who has a brain and the guts to use it. I should be grateful. I fared better in your hands than "Rent" did and to tell the truth, I'm not sure if that show is the Emperor's Clothes or not. I saw it, I liked it but I don't know why. Also I don't think about it a lot. But I always think about "Streetcar" or "Long Day's Journey" because I didn't have the good fortune to have a mother who was a heroin addict. We write what we know about. I come from a slightly sunnier family.

Maybe I'm writing this letter because I also think you have some compassion in you and I don't think you write reviews to make a name for yourself or because you like putting the knife in and twisting it. I think you write following your own convictions and I admire that. I do too, but because I'm so much in the public eye, I'm a much larger target than you. And an easier mark.

And also, because I don't think there will be many more plays coming from this typewriter. After you've written 30 of them, there's not much point in continuing. I thought Willie Mays was one of the greatest players I've ever seen, but I wouldn't want to see him in the outfield today. There are younger kids who run faster and hit further.

I will continue to read your reviews and the reviews of your fellow critics on the Weekly. The theater can use good critics as much as they need good playwrights.

If you've enjoyed getting this letter from me, enjoy it. You're not selling out. If not, toss it away and forget about it.

Sincerely,

Neil Simon

--Steven Leigh Morris
Ⓒ 2018 Stage Raw