In 2009, New York magazine’s culture editors considered Neil Simon’s canon and created this guide for playgoers, especially those who weren’t around for the prime of his career. Obviously, you’ll need to wait for new productions of the plays to see them, but they’re all available to be read, and many have been adapted for film.
The Odd Couple
(1965) Best. Premise. Ever.
The Sunshine Boys
(1972) Pure affection for the rhythm of Yiddish-inflected English.
Brighton Beach Memoirs/ Biloxi Blues/ Broadway Bound
(1983/1985/1986) Simon’s signature work — his attempt at Updike’s Rabbit novels, except with wisecracking middle-class Jews.
Lost in Yonkers
(1991) Won him a Pulitzer — finally. And has real, substantial female characters, a Simon rarity.
Pretty Damn Good
(1962) One actor, eight characters. A showcase for the right star, hopeless otherwise.
Barefoot in the Park
(1963) Dated but fun. Try to find the 1982 TV film version with Richard Thomas and Bess Armstrong.
(1966) Simon’s book is the weak link; the score’s super.
Plaza Suite/ California Suite/ London Suite
(1968/1976/1995) Uneven but interesting tales of midcentury marriage.
(1968) Smash musical based on The Apartment .
(1977) Autobiographical play about life after a spouse dies.
(1988) Rarely recognized as a success, though it ran for nearly a year on Broadway and delivers real laughs.
For True Fans Only
Come Blow Your Horn
(1961) His first play, so he gets a pass for the squirmy dialogue.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers
(1969) Beloved back then, but didn’t age well.
The Gingerbread Lady
(1970) Simon called it “faulty” — but also one of his favorites.
Prisoner of Second Avenue
(1971) Draggy period piece about an executive driven to a breakdown.
The Good Doctor
(1973) Simon cribs from Chekhov. Really.
They’re Playing Our Song
(1979) Cute-to-a-fault musical.
I Ought to Be in Pictures
(1979) Too sentimental by half.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor
(1993) Amiable memoir of writing for early TV; My Favorite Year did it better, though.
(1997) Props for introducing a major black character. Otherwise, meh.
45 Seconds From Broadway
(2001) “Sincere but paper-thin,” said Ben Brantley.
(2003) After casting turmoil, it closed in six weeks.
Best Off Forgotten
The Star-Spangled Girl
(1966) Didn’t work, then or now.
(1974) Based on the book of Job; Simon admits it was a clunker.
(1981) Closed after four weeks.
(1992) A lot of onstage therapy.
The Goodbye Girl
(1993) Musical adapted from the charmingly winning 1977 film. Generally held to be a debacle.
The Dinner Party
(2000) “Experimental” Simon still has a lot of glib jokes.