Neil Simon, the Most Successful Playwright in The History of Theatre

"It can be argued that Neil Simon is not only America\'s most successful
playwright, but also the most successful playwright in the history of theatre."1
Despite being criticized for lack of substance, his hugely successful comedies
are consistently revived, whether on Broadway or in other community or dinner
theatres. Last week the University of Notre Dame\'s Mainstage season opened with
the departmental premiere of Barefoot in the Park. Though the play originally
opened more then thirty years ago, the themes of compatibility and compromise
that it presents are still relevant today. Simon masterfully manipulated the
plot of Barefoot in the Park to include all of the elements of a fine play
(intrigue, credibility, surprise, etc.) and to create a viable playscript that
both emphasizes the play\'s major themes and, just as importantly, makes the
audience laugh.
Simon has skillfully constructed the plot of Barefoot in the Park to
showcase and emphasize his themes of compatibility and need for compromise. The
plot itself starts out fairly simple. In the first act, Paul and Corie Bratter,
wed but six days, move into their new apartment on the top floor of a brownstone
in New York City. From the very first, the audience can see that these are two
very different characters that have very different values, and yet Paul and
Corie are very much in love. The plot progresses as other characters are
introduced. First to visit the newlyweds is Corie\'s mother, Mrs. Banks. The
relationship between Corie and her mother also involves a clash of very distinct
personalities. With the appearance of the Bratter\'s eccentric upstairs neighbor,
Victor Velasco, Corie sees the opportunity to play matchmaker and inject a
little romance into her staid mother\'s life. The first act concludes with
Corie\'s plan to bring the two together at an upcoming dinner party, much to the
chagrin of her husband Paul. This creates intrigue--"that quality of a play
which makes us curious (sometimes fervently so) to see \'what happens next\'"2--
because the audience is left wondering whether Corie\'s plan will work. Thus the
first act provides exposition, creates a feeling of suspense, and begins to
showcase the compatibility problems in the relationships of several of the
The second act takes place in two parts: the first before Corie\'s dinner
party, and the second in the aftermath. Throughout the first part of the act,
Simon emphasizes the enthusiasm, spontaneity, and lack of forethought with which
Corie approaches her matchmaking task. Paul, on the other hand, acts like "a
stuffed shirt"3 and tries to show Corie the foolishness of her plan. The
evening, he says, "has fiasco written all over it!"4 In addition to the
widening gulf between the newlyweds, this scene also re-emphasizes the complete
opposition of personalities between Mrs. Banks (Ethel) and Victor Velasco.
Velasco cooks extravagant and exotic foods (despite not having any money) and
doesn\'t even wear a coat in the middle of February. Mrs. Banks, on the other
hand, sleeps on a board. The audience feels that the two of them are completely
incompatible and that the evening is destined to be a disaster.
The second part of act 2 begins when Corie and Velasco come tango-ing
through the door of the Bratters\' apartment. The audience\'s interest is
immediately captivated as they wonder what has become of Paul and Mrs. Banks.
The suspense doesn\'t last long, though, as Paul soon enters carrying his near-
unconscious mother-in-law. As the evening winds to a close, Velasco offers to
escort Mrs. Banks home to New Jersey, with presumably more licentious motives in
mind. Meanwhile Corie and Paul begin the first major argument of their wedded
life. Though Simon handles the fight with a light touch, the disagreement
nevertheless shows the way that some couples can become blinded by differences
and reluctant to compromise. Also, the events of the second act have led
naturally to this point, creating an element of credibility (also known as the
"internal consistency of a play"5. The second act closes with the rift between
the Paul and Corie at its widest; Corie wants a divorce and Paul is left to
sleep out on the couch under the broken skylight.
The third act begins rather quietly, as Corie and Paul avoid each other
and silently carry on their argument from the night before. The tension
suddenly erupts when Corie receives a phone call from a relative explaining that
Mrs. Banks never arrived home the night before. Fearing the worst, Corie climbs
up to Velasco\'s "apartment" to ascertain her mother\'s whereabouts.