BWW Review: LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR - Nostalgically Witty
Neil Simon's autobiographical comedy about his days as a writer in 1950's television, LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR, currently playing at City Theatre is an excellent way to spend an evening with charm and nostalgic wit.
Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows employed a veritable who's who of comedy writers in 1953. With such luminaries as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, along with Neil Simon and his brother Danny the television show was comic treasure trove. The show is set in the writer's room of NBC in New York City amid the backdrop of the McCarthy era House Un-American Activities Committee. Many in the entertainment industry were called before the committee, accused of being communists and blacklisted; the writers are justifiably terrified of making the wrong joke. Lucas ((Brian DiFilippo), narrates the play as the newcomer to the staff of writers on the Max Prince (Matt Gauck) Show, a weekly hour of comedy à la Sid Caesar. The other writers include Russian immigrant Val ((Jonathan Spear), Irishman Brian (Justin Dehn), physical comic Milt (Tony Salinas), the quick wit Kenny (Christian Huey), and the only female writer Carol (Jesselyn Parks). We learn that, not only is the network trying to cut costs, but the star of the show Max Prince, is out of control punching holes in walls. The final writer Ira (Scot Friedman) enters with a flurry of imagined illness, a massive hypochondriac who believes he will die any moment. The show is a brilliant example of Simon's one liner humor that has been his hallmark for more than fifty years.
The City Theatre production is excellent and has some genuinely hilarious moments. While the first act was slightly off of the comic rhythm necessary for producing Neil Simon, the second act was perfectly in sync and proved to be outstanding. Director Joey Banks keeps the action lively and the pacing tight. The cast is terrific as a whole and gives a warm hearted feel to their performance. Cast standouts include Brian DiFilippo as the young, earnest writer, desperate to be accepted. Tony Salinas is at his comic best as Milt, the top clown in a roomful of clowns. As Val, the Russian immigrant, Jonathan Spear is engaging as the head writer. Matt Gauck is perfectly manic as the star of the show, Max Prince. The best performance of the show goes to Austin veteran Scot Friedman as Ira, his pitch perfect performance is on point in every way. The character, said to be patterned after Mel Brooks with hints of Woody Allen, bursts onto the stage in a frenzy which Friedman nails. Seeing his performance alone is worth the price of admission, the rest of the show is the icing on the cake. I must now mention an ongoing problem at City Theatre which has continued to plague the venue over several productions, the lighting system is well below par. The stage lighting for LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR is dim in general and seriously dark on the stage's edges; but it's the power surges and flashing house lights throughout the show that are distracting and worrying. Several times during the show the house lights flashed on and off and the stage lights would brighten and dim. I've seen this happen at City many times over the years but the problem seemed to be better last year only to return with a vengeance now. Every time the lights flashed it took me out of the moment I was enjoying the actors in stage. I hope that the problem is remedied soon, it is frustrating to the audience and performers that this distraction has been allowed to continue.
I give my recommendation to LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR, for an excellent production that will have you smiling through the holidays.
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $10 - $20 citytheatreaustin.org