Laughter on the 23rd Floor
A strong acting ensemble plays this Neil Simon comedy like there's no tomorrow
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009
Laughter on the 23rd Floor
City Theatre, through Dec. 20
Running time: 2 hr, 10 min
Masters of comedic writing are few and far between, but Neil Simon is a master. For close to five decades Simon has penned comedies that are produced over and over again.
In this one, which has been produced locally on multiple occasions, Simon pays tribute to the Golden Age of television, most specifically to the sketch comedy shows that were the Fifties predecessors of our modern Saturday Night Lives and Mad TVs. We're talking Milton Berle here; we're talking Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Henny Youngman. It's a milieu Simon knows well, since he got his show business start on Caesar's Your Show of Shows. The plot isn't much to speak of – show gets popular, then gets less popular, then gets canceled – and while Simon mixes in the McCarthy hearings and the Rosenbergs, the freedom-of-speech angle seems somewhat perfunctory. It all really feels like an excuse for Simon to present a series of character sketches played entirely for comedic effect.
While the greatest strength of this City Theatre production is Simon's script – Simon could make a group of mourners at a funeral laugh (and probably has) – almost as strong is the ensemble that director Andy Berkovsky assembles to present it. Barely a weak link can be found. Macey Mayfield plays the ditzy blonde secretary with gentle subtlety. Keith Yawn does a decent job as a green and callow young writer and the narrator of the story. Judd Farris and Scot Friedman as veteran comedic scribes are dry as any desert sand. Dawn Erin and Gil Austin look and sound like they were pulled straight from the streets of New York and deposited in the NBC studio. Craig Kanne had me convinced he was transplanted from the cold snows of Moscow. But among all of these fine performances, Doug Labelle brought consistent, even overwhelming Big Apple energy and an infectious laugh every time he walked onto the stage, and as the star of the show, Max Prince, R. Michael Clinkscales convinced not only that he could be the leading light of a Fifties sketch comedy show but that he was undeniably and certifiably insane.
Above and beyond the accomplished ensemble acting, there were still other strengths. Berkovsky's staging works because his focal points are clear. When an audience is presented with clear focal points, they always know where to look and, thus, won't miss a step in the story. Berkovsky also has the actors play at a breakneck tempo, and while he could be faulted for not allowing them to take more time with the more dramatic moments in the story, getting out of the theatre faster is always better than getting out of the theatre slower. Hell, it's a comedy! Play it like there's no tomorrow! And that's what these actors do.
So if you're up for a good laugh, up for the most nongratuitous fart joke in the history of comedy, or ready for a woman talking about how she learned to say "fuck," head on down to the City Theatre, where you'll get all three. And more!