"Ho Hum, Another Simon Smash," says Variety this week, pretending not to care. Actually, Broadway has been praying for a hit this spring, and Neil Simon's "Biloxi Blues" seems to be it.
To show you how enthusiastic the New York critics were about Simon's barracks comedy (seen at the Ahmanson this winter), even John Simon liked it, praising the way Simon had bonded the jokes to a thoughtful theme of self-discovery.
Frank Rich of the New York Times found "Biloxi" a funnier and less self-congratulatory play than Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," also built around a young smart aleck named Eugene, admittedly based on the author. This time Eugene's adventures had real comic bite--Eugene being one of the bitten: "We watch him grow up as no other Simon character has."
Variety's Richard Hummler thought it a less affecting play than "Brighton Beach Memoirs," but an even more comical one: "a landslide of laughs engineered by a masterful comic dramatist with a rare talent for the accurate re-creation of human behavior"--here the behavior of a handful of raw Army recruits sharing a barracks.
Rich also thought that Matthew Broderick had made considerable progress as an actor since he first played Eugene in "Brighton Beach Memoirs." "He no longer seems a practiced stand-up comic masquerading in little boy's clothing, but an assured actor at one with a full-bodied role."
How long will it run? Well, Variety reports that a touring company will go out in February, 1986. Later there'll be the movie version, from Universal. Ho-hum.
Speaking of John Simon, he is the middle of another flap. Liz Smith of the Daily News reported that New York's most acidulous theater critic passed a highly uncomplimentary remark regarding "homosexuals in the theater" (nobody in particular, apparently) in the lobby of the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre the other night, after the first night of "The Loves of Anatol."
Smith's article scolded Simon for being intolerant and meanspirited. That was nothing to Don Shewey's account in the Village Voice. It took the form of a mock obituary for Simon, citing him for being "distinguished throughout his career for bigotry and inhumanity."
A reply from Simon, or from the publisher of New York magazine, is said to be on the way. Without denying Simon's homophobic bent, is it cricket to report remarks made by exasperated theater critics in theater lobbies? Or should theater critics know enough to keep their mouths shut until they're in the taxi?
Ray Stricklyn took his one-man evening with Tennessee Williams, "Confessions of a Nightingale," to Houston's Alley Theatre the other weekend, to good reviews.
The Houston Post's William Albright found Stricklyn's evocation of the "slightly snockered" playwright "delightfully packed with funny anecdotes, touching reminiscences and bitchy barbs."
Said Everett Evans in the Houston Chronicle: "Stricklyn is thoroughly convincing as Williams: relaxed, yet slightly ill at ease; humorously self-deprecating--a bundle of hurt, creativity, fear, compassion, loneliness and eccentricity."
The show continues weekends at the Beverly Hills Playhouse (213-851-3771).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Poet J. V. Cunningham, who died this week in Waltham, Mass., at the age of 73:
Time heals not; it extends a sorrow's scope
As goldsmiths gold, which we may wear like hope.