First Folio’s production of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is first-rate. Neil Simon is not my favorite comedy writer because his plays often get maudlin in the second act, but since the characters in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” would joke whatever the circumstances, this play stays funny. I give it 3 ½ Spotlights.
Simon used his experiences working as a writer on “Your Show of Shows”, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, as the basis for “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”. Can you imagine it? He and his brother, Danny, got to work with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Mel Tomkin!
Lucas (Andrew Behling), the new writer on the show, is starting his second week on the job. He’s a kind of narrator, introducing his fellow writers, even setting up a few of the jokes.
Milt (Wayne Temple) arrives at the office wearing a tacky cape and a beret. He admits that he bought the cape at a resale shop (true), then tells Lucas that he bought out the beret shop in Paris (not true). He is supporting a wife and a mistress.
Val (Joe Foust), the head writer, emigrated from Russia. He hates the Communists with a passion. He says went to a play the night before, but he can’t remember the name of the theater or the play.
Irish Brian (Steve Peebles) is a heavy smoker with a bad cough. He is always just on the verge of selling a script to Hollywood.
When Kenny (Steve Schine) gets in, he’s got bad news – their boss called last night. Max Prince (René Ruelas), a genuine comic genius, often calls when he has ‘ideas’ in the middle of the night but last night’s ranting was more insane than usual.
Carol (Hayley Rice) is the only female in this testosterone-filled environment – the writers’ room. Since she’s the only one who pays attention to the news, she reports that Senator McCarthy has just called General MacArthur a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, something that will send Max right off the deep end.
According to Max the ’suits’ are trying to cut the show by half an hour. Although the ratings are still high, the ‘suits’ think that people want to watch sitcoms. Now Max is in a stand-off with the network. He sees this as a war of sorts, and he’s going to win!
When Helen (Callie Johnson), Max’s harried secretary, lets them know Ira (Kevin McKillip), a hypochondriac of epic proportions, is on the way up, everyone agrees not to react to anything he says. As Ira raves about his health crisis, even listing the doctors to call, his co-workers just stare at him.
Learning that Marlon Brando has been cast to play Julius Caesar on Broadway, the writers base a sketch on that. They even use his famous yells for Stella from “A Streetcar Named Desire” as well as the famous “I coulda been a contender” line from “On the Waterfront”.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is perfect for adults and older teens. Due to some strong language, I wouldn’t recommend it for the younger set.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” runs through March 1st at First Folio Theatre, located at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. & Rt. 83, Oak Brook. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday at 8:00 pm; Sunday at 3:00 pm; with two special performances on Saturdays, February 21st and 28th at 4:00 pm. Running time is slightly over 2 hours with an intermission. Tickets range from $29-$39. Free parking. FYI (630) 986-8067 or www.firstfolio.org.
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