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|A CurtainUp Review
by Elyse Sommer
Our DC critic Les Gutman saw and reviewed Proposals last month, when it made its last stop before settling in at the Broadhurst. As a long-time Simon admirer who believes that his work is worth seeing even when it is his less-than-best (i.e. Jake's Women ), I decided to check out the New York production to see if there was any noticeable "doctoring" and if I agreed with all, some or none of what Les had to say.
Since there is little evidence of extensive changes from October to November Les' review at the beginning of the DC-October Report as our review of record. However, since I agree with most but not all of what he had to say, the following is an addendum review of sorts, with a sentence or paragraph introduced by LG excerpted from the DC review and a follow-up sentence preceded by ES representing my take on his. For the full review, go to (October DC-Report)
L.G.-- The country house comedy endures and flourishes. Neil Simon's contribution to the genre is set in the Poconos of the 1950's and as enjoyable as anything he has ever written
E.S.-- This needs a caveat or two. If you view enjoyable à la Simon as a laugh a minute, you're going to be disappointed in this play. The laughs are scattered chuckles and not the rat-tat-tat non-stop variety of Sunshine Boys, The Odd Couple or Rumors. This play, despite its often sun soaked country atmosphere is written in dark ink which, if you stick to his most current plays, brings it closer to Lost In Yonkers , but without quite the depth of that play. The "enjoyable as anything" also bears modifying to apply to the second act. The first act starts off and ends with flair, but for me, sagged and dragged in the middle. L.G.-- We meet people we'd swear we know; their problems, big and small, seem like our own. Somehow, this makes us laugh, often and a lot. Even when the subject is much darker than usual.
E.S.-- Those bold-faced words again evoke a caveat. The laughs, at least at the Broadhurst performance I attended, were scattered and did not begin to catch fire until the wonderful Peter Rini came on stage.
L.G. -- Clemma travels to her living past, a structure not as successful as it is perhaps clever. Notwithstanding, it casts an interestingly reflective, if sometimes somber, shadow on the proceedings.
E.S.-- I'm glad Les overcame his initial reserve about this device. I thought it worked extremely well from the opening scene and right on.
L.G. -- There is a maturity of subject and style in Proposals that reveals a progression in Simon's development, a shift that has been noticeable sinceBrighton Beach Memoirs. . . .Cares and concerns are no longer marginalized . . . Still, Simon's craftsmanship in dealing with these more serious elements never rises to the level of his comedic work, and seams are particularly visible in the unnecessarily long second act.
E.S.-- I agree with Les' evaluation of the play's inability to rise above the comedic level, (especially the overdone bird shtik), but for me, it was the first act that was unnecessarily long and the second that saw the cream rise. Perhaps this is a case of DC to NYC script doctoring but for me both the comedic elements and the relationships came together in that act so that it seemed much faster moving than the first. Also, the scene between Clemma and Josie and Josie and her mother really grabs the emotions and literally makes you choke up.
E.S.-- This isn't a contradiction of any of Les' praises of the actors but an additional pat on the back for Katie Finneran as Sammii who comes on stage during Act 2 as Ray's girlfriend but is clearly marked to end up as Vinnie's Sure her character is the familiar Judy Holliday mold, but so what? Her facial expressions, alone, are priceless.
E.S.-- More of the above. Praises for the production values are also due to Stephen Flaherty for incidental music. This is the same composer who wrote the music for Once On An Island and the forthcoming Ragtime.
L.G. -- Even with its faults, if this is to be Simon's last offering for Broadway, it is already a swan song with an exceptionally appealing voice. Matured as it is, it remains true to his roots most of all.
E.S.-- This is less a contradiction as a point of fact. According to an interview with Charley Rose earlier this week, no matter how Proposals fares at the Broadhurst, Simon is not about to donate his typewriter to some theatrical archive. He sounded determined to continue writing for both the theater and the movies. For Les Gutman's full review of Proposals during its October run in Washington go here