Drawing: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Plaza Suite’

Autographed drawing of Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite on Broadway

The mail at the moment is about as reliable as the weather with strikes and cyber attacks, but I did receive a very pleasant surprise in the post last week when a small line sketch I did and sent a year ago to Matthew Broderick and his wife Sarah Jessica Parker when they featured in the Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE came back signed and dedicated.

The production, which was delayed by over a year due to the Covid Pandemic and temporaily paused while both leads has respective bouts of the bug, opened last February at the Hudson Theater and extended its run to replace the lost performances, finishing on 10 July. This was the first revival of a Neil Simon play following his passing at the age of 91 in 2018.

It originally opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater on Valentine’s Day 1968 with George C.Scott and Maureen Stapleton, running for 1097 performances, directed by Mike Nichol, who won the Tony Award for Best Direction.The play, in three acts, is set in Suite 719 of New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel in Midtown Manhatten. Matthew and Sarah play three wildly divergent couples across three vignettes-the first, Sam and Karen Nash revisiting their honeymoon suite to rekindle their love on their 23rd anniversary, only to end in a raging argument when Karen accuses Sam of having an affair with his secretary. The second set of couples, Jesse Kiplinger, a Hollywood movie producer catches up with his old flame, Murial Tate with only one thing in mind and the final act sees parents Ray and Norma Hubley on their daughter, Mimsey’s wedding day, who has locked herself in the bathroom in a state of nervousness, refusing to attend her wedding downstairs.

This was the first time Matthew and Sarah had worked together in 20 years, since both appearing in the final weeks of the 1996 revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Their performances were well received by both audiences and critics alike. In his Variety review, Daniel D’Addario writes, “Neil Simon’s look at three romantic couples facing down the passage of time is sharp and knowing… thank goodness for Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, the real-life married couple bring a serious commitment to the spirit of the work, allowing their own personas to throw some meta-textual sparks without overtaking the spirit of Simon. As directed by John Benjamin Hickey, Parker and Broderick provoke, alienate and woo one another, and provide a strong argument for a playwright whose work seems next-to-impossible to subvert.”

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Drawing: Neil Simon

Drawing of writer Neil Simon

Proclaimed by TIME magazine as ‘the patron saint of laughter,’ writing colossus Neil Simon passed away in late August 2018, aged 91. Considered the most popular playwright since Shakespeare, I drew this sketch of Neil and sent it to him a year earlier, hoping to have it signed, but it was returned with a letter form his office saying that Mr Simon was no longer able to fulfill requests for autographs, but did appreciate my letter and drawing.

Neil dominated Broadway like no other playwright over the past half-century. In the New York Times obituary, Charles Isherwood wrote “Mr Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling.” Hardly a year passed from 1961 to 1993 without a new Simon production. His unparalleled career spanned four decades, with over 30 plays and musicals, starting with COME BLOW YOUR HORN in 1961 until 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY in 2001. He also wrote as many screenplays, mostly adaptations of his theatre scripts.

His breakthrough play was BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1963), followed by a string of smash hits, THE ODD COUPLE (1965), PLAZA SUITE (1968), THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1971) and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1974). His final play was ROSE’S DILEMMA in 2003, produced off-Broadway and in Los Angeles. From 1965-1980 Neil’s plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other writer of the era. In 1966 he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.

His arsenal of sarcastic wit with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living involving typically imperfect characters, unheroic figures who are at heart, decent human beings were the hallmarks of his work. He has more combined Oscar (4) and Tony Award (17) nominations than any other writer, winning three Tony’s for THE ODD COUPLE, BILOXI BLUES (1985) and a Special Award in 1975 for his overall contribution to American Theatre. His Academy Award noms were for THE ODD COUPLE (1969), THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1976), THE GOODBYE GIRL (1978), which did win a Golden Globe and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1979). He also won four Writers Guild Awards and received four Emmy nominations among his many accolades that included the Pulitzer Prize for Drama LOST IN YONKERS in 1991. He was the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named after him in 1983.

I was very fortunate to collect Neil’s signature a few years ago, when he signed and dedicated a poster from his 1988 farce Rumors for me.

Drawing: Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl

Autographed drawing of actor Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl

Neil Simon’s THE GOODBYE GIRL remains one of my all-time favourite films because of his script and its delivery. The 1977 film, directed by Herbert Ross about an odd trio thrown together in “one of life’s little jests,” features Marsha Mason as Paula McFadden, a former Broadway dancer bringing up her ten year-old daughter Lucy (Quinn Cummings) when a struggling actor, Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss) arrives at their New York apartment in the middle of the night, because Paula’s ex-lover has fled to Europe, subletting it… without telling her.

The film was a critical and commercial success with Richard winning the Best Actor Oscar, BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Marsha was also nominated for all three awards, winning the Globe. Her Actress in a Leading Role Academy Award nom was her second of four.

She had previously been acknowledged for her Golden Globe winning performance as prostitute Maggie Paul in CINDERELLA LIBERTY (1973). She played actresses Jennie MacLaine in CHAPTER TWO (1979) and Georgina Hines in ONLY WHEN I LAUGH (1981), receiving Oscar nominations for both. They were written by Neil Simon, who was her husband at the time. Marsha will be familiar to fans of the sitcom FRASIER, in which she had a recurring role as the fun-loving, brash and crass bartender Sherry Dempsey in the late 1990’s, receiving an Emmy nomination.

I sent this GOODBYE GIRL montage of Marsha to her Connecticut home a few weeks ago after my wife and I watched the film for the millionth time, and she kindly signed and returned it to me.