The Gingerbread Lady

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The Gingerbread Lady
Written byNeil Simon
Date premiered1970
Place premieredPlymouth Theatre
Original languageEnglish
SettingNew York City

The Gingerbread Lady is a play by Neil Simon. It was widely believed to have been written specifically for actress Maureen Stapleton,[1] who won both the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for her performance. But in a later autobiography, Simon wrote that he'd feared Stapleton might be "hurt" if she assumed the character's flaws and personal damage were a direct dramatization of her life. Simon said that it was director Mike Nichols' suggestion to cast Stapleton in the role, and that Simon responded, "This is not really Maureen. It's ten, twenty different actresses I've met over the years."[2]


The Gingerbread Lady opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on December 13, 1970 and closed on May 29, 1971, after 193 performances and 12 previews. Directed by Robert Moore the cast featured, in addition to Maureen Stapleton, Betsy von Furstenberg (Toby Landau), Michael Lombard (Jimmy Perry) and Charles Siebert (Lou Tanner).[3] It proved to be one of Simon's least successful plays on Broadway.[4]

Stapleton won the 1971 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.

In the UK, the play premiered at the Theatre Royal Windsor on June 25, 1974 with Elaine Stritch in the lead, and Vivien Merchant, Kevin Lindsay, Stephen Greif and Jenny Quayle in support.[5] The production belatedly transferred to the Phoenix Theatre in London's West End on October 23, with Merchant and Greif replaced by Sarah Marshall and Blain Fairman. Like the Broadway version, this one ran for just over five months.[6]

The play was revived by the Equity Library Theater (New York City) in 1987. [7]

Plot overview[edit]

A major departure from Simon's previous lighthearted plays, The Gingerbread Lady was a dark drama with comic overtones centering on Evy Meara, a cabaret singer whose career, marriage, and health all have been destroyed by alcohol. Alvin Klein noted that "The play was Mr. Simon's first attempt to play it straight and serious."[4]

Having just completed a ten-week stint in a rehab facility to overcome her addiction, she returns home to the welcome of friends with their own problems. These include Toby, an overly vain woman who fears the loss of her looks and Jimmy, a homosexual actor in danger of losing a part in a play, her devoted but anxious teenaged daughter, and a worthless ex-lover. Evy's efforts at hosting a party crumble when she falls off the wagon and careens toward a tragic end.


In 1981, Simon adapted his play as a film with the title Only When I Laugh, starring his then-wife Marsha Mason in the lead role.[8]

According to Susan Fehrenbacher Koprince (associate professor of English at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks), the film "is radically changed" from the play, and used "less than half" of the play. For example, the former nightclub singer Evy becomes Georgia, "a divorced actress who is battling alcoholism as she struggles to establish a closer relationship with her daughter." Georgia, unlike Evy, is not a nymphomaniac and is not as self-destructive. Koprince concludes that the optimistic ending for the film is "more plausible" than the "tacked-on happy ending to the play".[9]


According to Thomas S. Hischak "Critics were mixed in their reaction, one stating that Simon's 'characteristic wit and humor are at their brilliant best, and his serious story of lost misfits can often be genuinely and deeply touching' but another noting that 'what is written is not serious but earnest.'" They "all lauded Stapleton's penetrating performance." The play ran "a disappointing five months, the shortest run yet for a Simon play." [10]


  1. ^ Fisher, James and Woronoff, Jon (ed). "Maureen Stapleton" Historical Dictionary of Contemporary American Theater, 1930–2010 (Volume I) (2011), The Scarecrow Press, Inc., ISBN 978-0-8108-5532-8, p. 758
  2. ^ Simon, Neil, Rewrites, Simon & Shuster, 1996, pg. 283
  3. ^ Simon, Neil. Contents The Gingerbread Lady (1971), (, Samuel French, Inc., ISBN 978-0-573-60935-0, pp. ii-iv
  4. ^ a b Klein, Alvin. "Theater in Review; 'Gingerbread Lady' Lacks Spice" The New York Times, December 20, 1981
  5. ^ 'Out of Town', The Stage 20 June 1974
  6. ^ R B Marriott, 'Plays in Performance: The Gingerbread Lady at the Phoenix', The Stage 31 October 1974
  7. ^ Bruckner, D.J.R. (December 9, 1987). "Theater: 'The Gingerbread Lady'". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  8. ^ " 'Only When I Laugh' listing" Internet Movie Database, accessed April 10, 2012
  9. ^ Koprince, Fehrenbacher Susan. "Chapter:Movie Adaptations of Simon's Plays" Understanding Neil Simon (2002), (, Univ of South Carolina, ISBN 1-57003-426-5, pp. 154–155
  10. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. "1970–1971" American Theatre: a Chronicle of Comedy and Drama 1969–2000 (2001), (, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-512347-6, p. 25

External links[edit]