Booze and pills
Cabaret’s production of Simon’s Laughter captures ‘50s gag writers’ world
The hell’s-a-poppin’ world of early ‘50s TV comedy writers is the setting for Neil Simon’s play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, currently running at the Chico Cabaret. Simon knows what he’s writing about—along with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen (for a brief stint) and a host of others, Simon wrote sketch comedy for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. And there are some similarities between that venerated program and the fictionalized Max Prince Show in this story.
Through newcomer Lucas (Brian Miner), we are introduced to the neurotic bunch that cranks out the comedy each week for star Max Prince (Jeff Dickenson). It would have been easy here for Simon to create thinly veiled simulacrums of those he once worked with. Instead, there are only traces. Milt (Bob King) dresses somewhat theatrically like Mel Brooks, but here his pointed humor and delivery are more suggestive of Groucho Marx. Then there are Russian Val (Bill Cose), Hollywood-aspiring Brian (Don Eggert), “whiz kid” Kenny (Allen Lunde), lone female gag writer Carol (Crystal Szymanski), and hypochondriac Ira (Don Owen), who while much maligned by the others often comes up with the funniest stuff.
The actors handle their characters with varying degrees of success, the strongest here being Cose, Lunde, Owen, Miner, Szymanski and Dickenson—we believe Dickenson’s Max Prince is the type who would unconsciously mix booze and sedatives, resulting in comically paranoid behavior.
The set was very evocative of a ‘50s comedy “think tank.” Costumes were good, and sound and lighting effective. My only gripe is that sometimes the funny lines didn’t snap like they should, throwing the show’s timing off. However, when the cast is on, this is one of the funniest plays I’ve seen in a while.