LONDON -- Neil Simon is the only living playwright to have a theatre named after him on Broadway. He is probably the world's most prolific and successful dramatist, beginning his career in a scriptwriting partnership with his brother, Danny, and going on to write TV scripts for Sid Caesar and The Phil Silvers Show.
Before his first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, he read books on playwriting: "I knew that you should write about what you know. I figured, OK, I know my family," he says. He has since based nearly all his plays on his family and his own life, and hasn't looked back.
"I never set out to make money," he claims, "it just comes, like some weird thing." He finds this confusing, because when he was growing up there was never any money at home to pay the bills.
Now his 1972 play, "Chapter Two", directed by David Gilmore, is at the re-named Gielgud Theatre in London's Shaftesbury Avenue (it used to be The Globe Theatre, but would have become muddled with the new Shakespeare's Globe, when that opens on Bankside) and has had its run extended to July 13. It's based on Simon's decision to marry the actress Marsha Mason, soon after the death of his first wife, Joan.
The play, understandably, has sad as well as its comic moments; but the sudden switch from light-hearted romance at the end of the first act, to bitterness at the beginning of the second, is uncomfortably abrupt. Tom Conti and Sharon Gless are eminently watchable in the main parts, and Ian Redford and Debora Weston play the hero's brother and the heroine's girlfriend, who end us as an interestingly contrasting couple. Conti and Gless are excellent; however, while Redford and West are more than competent, they somehow seem to be trying too hard -- there is something that niggles, something slightly askew, about the production. In other words, the play, or possibly the particular performance I saw, isn't quite as smooth running and seamless as all the other Neil Simon plays I've enjoyed; but it was an OK evening. Excellent set by Tim Goodchild; ditto lighting by Jenny Cane.