Players End Season with Simon Comedy

by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder
Community Players’ final play of the 2014-2015 season is Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Neil Simon’s 1993 comedy, based on his experience writing for the classic TV variety program Your Show of Shows. Your Show of Shows was broadcast live for ninety minutes each week from February 1950 through June 1954, and starred Sid Caesar with strong support from Imogene Coca, among others. Simon and his brother Danny were two of an amazing group of writers that also included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Larry Gelbart. Laughter on the 23rd Floor is set in the writers’ room of a successful variety show starring Max Prince, a thinly disguised version of Caesar. The writers, all versions of Simon’s actual colleagues, schmooze and bicker, complain and kibitz, try desperately to come up with jokes for next week’s broadcast, and placate the mercurial Prince.

Sid Caesar’s writers’ room has been a particularly fertile source of comedy. In addition to Simon’s play, Carl Reiner drew on his experiences there to create the Alan Brady Show’s writing staff, headed by Rob Petrie, on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Mel Brooks used his experience of babysitting a far from sober guest star Errol Flynn for his film My Favorite Year, which was adapted into an excellent stage musical of the same title by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Joseph Dougherty. Laughter on the 23rd Floor was itself adapted into a TV movie in 2001, with Nathan Lane re-creating his stage performance as Max Prince.

Marcia Weiss directs our production, and she has assembled a marvelous ensemble that delivers Simon’s humor with solid characterizations and spot on comic timing.

The story is told from the perspective of Lucas Brickman, played by Joshua McCauley. Brickman occasionally addresses the audience directly, providing commentary on the characters and events, and effectively becomes Neil Simon for the audience.

Players veteran Brian Artman portrays the star Max Prince to the max. His impression of Max Prince playing Marlon Brando playing Julius Caesar during a skit rehearsal is priceless. Drew German plays a Russian immigrant, writer Val Slotsky. His accent is delightful. Hannah Kerns is Carol Wyman, the sole female writer on the staff whose character, even while pregnant, is “one of the guys.” Mario Silva plays Ira Stone and is a sparkplug of action who has a love-hate relationship with Prince.   Also giving solid performances as other members of the writing staff are Brian Doyle, played by Chris Terven, and Kenny Franks, played by Andrew Werner. The venerable Bruce Parrish is back in town as Master Builder and also to portray writer Milt Fields. His drunken attempted seduction of staff assistant Helen, played by Melissa Breeden, is classic Bruce and a true delight.

The staff of Laughter… includes Sara Schramm as producer, Grace Irvin as staff assistant, Mark Wright as Lighting Designer and Rich Plotkin as sound engineer. Opal Virtue is costume designer with assistance from Sherry Bradshaw. Property designers are Dorothy Mundy and Carol Plotkin. Judy Stroh is stage manager and Wendi Fleming is house manager. Samantha Smith is assistant director and is also serving as dramaturge for this production.

The box set has been designed by Chris Terven, built by Parrish, and painted by Dave Fuller, Parrish, and Terven. With the New York skyline visible through upstage center windows, the audience is effectively transported to the Manhattan office where the writing of Max Prince’s show (and the entire action of the play) takes place.

The first sentence of the synopsis about Laughter on the 23rd Floor on the Community Players website warns, “Contains Mature Language.” It does. You probably don’t want to bring the pre-teens to this one. Although necessary to the comedy, the F-word is used more than a few times. That said, the show is anything but intense, with only feigned, comic violence.

The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is May 7, with regular performances May 8-10, 14-17 and 21-24. As usual, evening performances begin at 7:30 with Sunday matinees starting at 2:30.


Photos by John Lieder