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BWW: Playwright Ellen Simon on the Delayed PTC Premiere of Her New Play ASS and on Her Father, Neil Simon

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ASS opens on October 22 and plays through November 6, 2021.

BWW: Playwright Ellen Simon on the Delayed PTC Premiere of Her New Play ASS and on Her Father, Neil Simon

The world premiere of ASS, a comedy by successful playwright and screenwriter Ellen Simon, will finally open at Pioneer Theatre Company on October 22 and will run through November 6, 2021. Its original 2020 world premiere was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tickets for this production can be purchased by calling 801-581-6961 or by visiting www.pioneertheatre.org.

ASS, which began its life at PTC as a Play-by-Play reading in 2018, tells the story of a brilliant sculptor of world renown who is confronted by his son and his ninth wife as he deals with his own mortality. It is a witty and engaging look at a family who can't help but behave badly.

Playwright Ellen Simon wrote the screenplays for ONE FINE DAY and MOONLIGHT and VALENTINO, and worked on the script for the successful box-office movie HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS. Her plays have been performed as part of the Duke Broadway Preview series, at Stages Repertory Theatre, and at Pasadena Playhouse. She also wrote for the TV series THIRTYSOMETHING.

Ellen Simon, who is the daughter of famed playwright Neil Simon, kindly opened up to BroadwayWorld about ASS, its delayed opening, her friend and collaborator PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg, and the impact of their fathers' careers on their own.


1. What was it like to be so close to the world premiere of your new play and then for it to be canceled due to the pandemic?

We were all really stunned and saddened to leave what we had started. Karen had staged everything up until the last two scenes, and it was going really well! For me personally, though, the road to a full production for this play had already been quite long, so it wasn't the first time I'd had to put it aside. Luckily, there was a commitment from Karen to try again as soon as it became possible, so that did keep spirits up.

2. How does it feel for the premiere to be so close after the delays and rescheduling?

It feels wonderful and also somewhat surreal. We are rehearsing in masks, so to only see eyes on the usually expressive faces of our cast is definitely an adjustment.

3. What was the reaction to ASS at its Play-by-Play reading at PTC? Have you made any changes to the text in the time that has passed?

It was a strong reaction in the best possible sense. So much so, that Pioneer put it on the schedule for a full production. I have changed the text in these eighteen months of shut down. Mostly some character adjustments and a time change too. 2021 felt just too extreme for a play of this nature.

4. What is most important for people to understand about ASS before they see it?

I began writing ASS around fifteen years ago, wanting to move away from romantic comedies, to try something intimate, theatrical, and thematically deeper. I thought of my own playwright-father's advice to 1) write what you know, and 2) to make sure there is conflict. I also thought about my favorite plays, all family-based stories, and so fashioned a family completely different than my own, while also being quite similar in how they behave badly. We at my house could be articulate grumblers and finger-pointers amid all the love. I wanted to create a familiar dynamic similar to what I had experienced growing up, but to also find a story that took on a life of its own, grounded in outrage and truth, that also had to earn the cheeky title that I can't even share with my own grandson!

5. What do you hope audiences will take away from your play?

Each of our characters feels that they desperately need something from another in order to complete them, to make themselves feel whole, and they create havoc trying to achieve that. I hope our audiences will think about the notion of fragmentation as it pertains to self. The genius sculptor at the heart of ASS sculpts body parts so magnificently that one can see the whole from just the part, drawing upon the notion of synecdoche.

6. How does your father's legacy impact you as a playwright?

Even though he's gone now, I still hope to make him proud. I've learned so much about comedy and timing from him, as well as how to build a story and keep the audience both connected and engaged in each and every scene. I know how many people loved my dad's work and though I am a much different writer and person, his legacy makes me intent on not just getting it right, but carrying on his work ethic (many rewrites!!) and exploring the line between comedy and drama.

7. Tell us about your long relationship with PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg and the bond between your two families.

Karen's father, Manny Azenberg, began producing my dad's plays starting with THE SUNSHINE BOYS, so Karen and I met on that opening night way, way back then. We were both aspiring dancers and choreographers and avid theatergoers too, well before high school. And our fathers were best friends. Karen and I saw right up close what it took to put on a show, and instead of scaring us, we both longed to put on shows of our own one day. Our experience working together on this play is reminiscent of our fathers to be sure, but we're our own selves too, with a shared purpose in putting out the absolute best we possibly can. It's a full-on joy working with Karen, knowing that Manny is coming soon to cheer and support us (and likely to give notes too.)

Photo Credit: Pioneer Theatre Company. L-R Laura J. Hall (Tory), Ben Cherry (Will Waterman), Vince McGill (Ray), T. Ryder Smith (Jule Waterman), and Elizabeth Ramos (Ana)


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