Ever since it first debuted on Broadway in 1993, Neil Simon’s comedy, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” has been transporting audiences back to simpler-but-still- troubled times, namely the 1950s. Set in New York City and, to be more specific, in the writer’s room of a weekly comedy series, this charming play, onstage now at NRACT and directed by Jon Todd, shines mainly because of its unforgettable cast of characters.
Max Prince (David Klionsky) is the hard-drinking, world-weary star of the aforementioned comedy show. Despite his crazy antics, he loves and appreciates the writers who work for him. They include Lucas (Jonathan King), a sweet-faced, wide-eyed show business newbie, straightforward Russian immigrant Ira (Larry Evans), chain-smoking Brian (Ryan Ladue), and a host of other colorful characters, including a token female and a hypochondriac.
The play, based largely on Simon’s early experiences as a television comedy writer, focuses mainly on character development and on the odd but somehow workable creative process the team undergoes. While some of the humor in Simon’s script is already starting to feel a bit dated and while the show does rely too much on over-the-top, overly-physical humor, there is a lot to love here.
Perhaps what is most endearing in Simon’s script is the genuine concern and love- albeit love veiled by humorous jabs and insults- that the characters have for each other. They have become a family as they work on this labor of love/labor of hate week after week. And, though their show is faltering under the harsh realities of McCarthy-era censorship, their determination to persevere and, later, their staunch denial of what is inevitably to come turns them into even more believable, lovable characters.
With such strong characters driving the play, the wrong casting can completely ruin it. Luckily, Todd has chosen his actors carefully. Klionsky makes Max into a red-faced, slightly psychotic drunk, but one who is still completely lovable and, at his core, sweet. King, with his boyish demeanor and quiet yet powerful presence, is another standout, adding dimension and mystery to the character of Lucas, a character so subtly written that it would be all too easy for him to fade into the background and never have his true beauty realized. Fortunately, King has too good of a read on the character to let that happen. Ladue also does a good job with his comic role- garnering huge laughs, thanks in large part to his flawless execution of a thick Russian accent.
All of the actors’ performances, along with a perfect period set, combine to create that intangible crisp, vaguely physical, and overtly pleasant “feel” that real 50s/60s comedies (Think “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Leave it to Beaver”) possess. That sense of nostalgia alone makes watching “Laughter” well worth it. This production truly transports viewers to a different time and place while simultaneously making them realize that said time and place isn’t so different, at least not in the important ways, from today’s.
The North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 and 31, 3 p.m. Feb. 1, 8 p.m. Feb. 6 and 7, and 3 p.m. Feb. 8 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $16.52 ($13.41 students and seniors), including fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/724078. SHOW: http://www.nract.org/upcoming-productions/neil-simon-s-laughter-on-the-23rd-floor and https://www.facebook.com/events/360274060813510/.
2015 SHOWS: http://www.nract.org/upcoming-productions.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993 Broadway comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2809/laughter-on-the-23rd-floor-neil-simon (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=5292 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laughter_on_the_23rd_Floor (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://stagedirection.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/laughter-on-the-23rd-floor-study-guide/ (Stage Direction).
Neil Simon (Bronx, NY-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7879 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Simon (Wikipedia).
Laughter on the 23rd Floor (2001 made-for-television movie): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0248955/ (Internet Movie Database).
Jon Todd (Raleigh director): https://www.facebook.com/todd.jon (Facebook page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.