Business of Funny: Laughter on the 23rd Floor

Why laughter, why on the 23rd floor? Neil Simon’s comedy, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which opened on Broadway in 1993 starring Nathan Lane, is a love letter in play form about Simon’s days as a comedy writer on the 1950’s Your Show of Shows. Simon portrays himself as the youthful narrator Lucas Brickman, the “new guy on the team” and creates larger than life versions of key writers, most of whom went on to major show business careers: Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, Woody Allen and Dave Caesar.

The "Gang" on the 23rd Floor

Got to be hard not to laugh when you think about the witty repartee that took place when this irascible, sharp-tongued group met daily to churn out comedy routines for Sid Caesar. Simon put his fictional writers on an imaginary 23rd floor as actual script sessions took place on NBC’s eleventh and twelfth floors: 11 plus 12 equals 23.

Water Tower Theatre‘s production of  Laughter on the 23rd Floor presents a satisfying, if somber, fly-on-the-wall picture of what it might have been like to function daily amidst a swarm of oddball creatives writing like busy bees for the likes of Jackie Gleason/ Sid Caesar. Exciting times! McCarthy is grilling Commie witches from the arts community in Congress and network executives fret that Middle America won’t get the sophisticated jokes the “team” turns out like State Fair taffy. It drives the comedian they write for, Max Prince, to distraction, so much that he punches holes in his luxurious office suite walls.

Director Terry Martin’s cast is comprised of some of the ablest comic talent in the DFW region. Put Brian Hathaway, Regan Adair, Ted Wold and Ginger Goldman in a room together, and it has to get funny fast. Add a dose of ethnic leavening from John Daniel Psyk (as writer Val who can’t say f***k) and Erik Achilla as Irishman Brian, and the firecracker just aches for a match. In this case, Brian Gonzales as comedian Max and Brandy McClendon as secretary/ writer wannabe Helen set off hysterical explosions every time they make an entrance. And newcomer Daniel Frederick as Simon’s alter ego Lucas keeps the audience engaged with his aw shucks fresh Rob Petrie-like demeanor, a quiet hint of the next generation of writer closing in fast.

Director Martin emphasizes the serious undertones of the play: job security, censorship, network downsizing. This tamped down the excess of manic repartee and potential high jinks, which could result from seating Woody Allen at a table with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. I expected more rumble, but enjoyed the nostalgic respect for a bygone day expressed so clearly in Simon’s script.

Rodney Dobbs’ set, a stunning recreation of a 1950’s penthouse office, replete with boxy furnishings, green marble columns and an upstage picture window with projection of a 1950’s downtown New York vista, brings a down-to-earth reality to the scenes. It reminds the audience that after all, writing comedy is a business.

If you want a glimpse into a bygone era with a group of talented folks who take the business of laughter on any floor seriously, catch this Neil Simon gem at Water Tower before some network cancels it.

Runs through February 7 at the Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road in Addison, Texas. Performance times are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM (February 6 only) and 8:00 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets: 972.450.6232 or www.watertowertheatre.org

Your Show of Shows: http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Shows/5460

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sid_Caesar

PHOTO: Erik Archilla (kneeling), Joh Pszyk, Daniel Fredrick (seated), Ted Wold, Brian Hathaway, Ginger Goldman & Regan Adair; Photo by Mark Oristano

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