An American comic writing legend and a famous Irish political rabble-rouser are the two playwrights whose plays will be presented this summer at the Watermark Theatre. The professional theatre company’s 10th Anniversary Season will include Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”.
Neil Simon is widely considered one of the most successful playwrights in American history. In his long and prolific career, he has become an icon of film and theatre with his distinctive combination of humor and humanity.
Simon was born to a Jewish-American family in 1927 in the Bronx, New York
City. After a brief stint in the military, the young Simon teamed up with his brother Danny to pursue comedy writing in radio and television. They got their first break writing for the television comedy “Your Show of Shows” under the actor and writer Sid Caesar. The other writers included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, and Woody Allen. “I knew when I walked into Your Show of Shows,” recalled Simon, “that this was the most talented group of writers that up until that time had ever been assembled.”
Like Brooks and Allen, Simon’s writing reflects his roots as a Jewish-American kid growing up in New York City. All three were sophisticated, sarcastic, and ably balanced slapstick and farce with real insight. But in addition, Simon’s plays also capture an inclusive American experience. For him, New York seemed to be a microcosm for the country as it evolved. The city was bustling with a diverse population of recent immigrants and represented the frontier of America’s changing cultural landscape.
In the 1960s, Simon began writing for the stage. He scored a hit in 1961 with his debut, “Come Blow Your Horn”, which ran for 678 performances. In 1966, he made history when he had four plays running simultaneously on Broadway: “Sweet Charity”, “The Star-Spangled Girl”, “The Odd Couple”, and “Barefoot in the Park” (which played for 1,530 performances). In the years that followed, he would go on to write iconic plays and films, earning four Oscar nominations, twelve Tony nominations, and two Tony wins for best play with “Biloxi Blues” in 1985 and “Lost in Yonkers” in 1991, which also won Simon the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
His other famous plays include: “Chapter Two”, “They’re Playing Our Song”, “I Ought to Be in Pictures”, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “The Goodbye Girl”, and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”.
In 1983, Simon was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. And in that same year became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre, the Neil Simon Theatre, named in his honour.
Irish playwright and critic, George Bernard Shaw, sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. Shaw wrote more than sixty plays and three volumes of music and drama criticism. He was a free spirit and a freethinker who advocated women’s rights and equality on income. Most of Shaw’s early plays described the problems of capitalism and explored existing moral and social problems. These plays included “Widower’s Houses” about the landlords of slum properties; “The Philanderer”; and “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” taking his titular character’s profession as a metaphor for a prostituted society.
From 1904 to 1909 The Royal Court Theatre in London staged fourteen of Shaw’s plays. The first, “John Bull’s Other Island”, a comedy about an Englishman in Ireland, attracted leading politicians and was seen by Edward VII, who laughed so much that he broke his chair. Other plays in the series included “Man and Superman”, “Major Barbara”, “The Doctor’s Dilemma”, and “Caesar and Cleopatra”. “Pygmalion”, Shaw’s most successful play, was produced in London in 1914. In 1938 he provided the screenplay for a filmed version of “Pygmalion”, for which he received an Academy Award.
His appetite for politics and controversy remained undiminished throughout his life. By the late 1920s he often wrote and spoke favourably of dictatorships of the right and left. In the final decade of his life he made fewer public statements, but continued to write prolifically until shortly before his death, aged 94.
His valuable contributions to literature won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. While Shaw accepted the honor, he refused the money. He has regularly been rated as second only to William Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.
Watermark is thrilled to be producing plays from these two iconic playwrights of English language theatre and look forward to introducing their plays to the Island’s residents and visitors this summer.