Somewhat Recommended ** There is no question that Neil Simon has brought more laughter to theater audiences for many years. When one thinks of “The Odd Couple” and his great trilogy that tells his story, “Lost in Yonkers”, “Brighton Beach Memoirs and others, a smile comes to your face and often a tear to your eye. Simon began as a tv writer on one of televisions greatest variety shows, “Your Show of Shows” also known as The Sid Caesar Comedy Hour. His play, now on the stage of the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is based on that experience and working with some of the greatest comedy writers in history- Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbert, Woody Allen (as a youth) and many others. This play is in many ways his story.
This was the 1950’s .Television was just getting started and there were only three networks. For you younger people, this is hard to believe. Only three choices! And guess what? No videos! No Viewers choice! No cable stations! Just the three networks, and if you were lucky, perhaps a local channel and if really lucky, a channel like 32 in Chicago. Networks were spending money to draw in viewers but did not need to because people were captivated by this new form of entertainment, waiting all day for the magic to begin and the “test pattern to disappear”. Yes, television was on from approximately 4 p.m. until midnight when we heard and say the “pledge of Allegiance”: followed by the return of the “test pattern”.
This production, presented by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre at The Metropolis is a solid production, but to be honest, in today’s world , not the best choice. It is not as funny as it may have been back in the early days and at over two hours, should probably be edited to keep viewers’ interest at its peak. Directed by David Belew on a great set (Pat Iven, who also designed the sound) I felt that we were indeed in an office building, Although we never hear the sounds of the street, to give it that New York flavor, I did feel that we were in a big city. The costumes Cathy Tantillo) were very 1950’s and the props (Mara Sullivan) were fitting. Jeff Irlbeck’s lighting was excellent and the video of the actual skits and shows from “Your Show of Shows” on the wall, prior to the performance, were funnier than the actual show.
Not to say that the show is not funny. It is, but the material is very dated and by today’s standards, just not what I call the best of Simon. The actors, in my opinion, were far better than the script and if I did another rating, they would get *** .
Michael Woods is exceptional as Max, the comedian who represents Sid Caesar, who spends each week with his staff of writers creating what they feel is the best comedy, sparing no expense. Andrew J. Ponds, a familiar face in the Chicago theater scene, plays Val the Russian writer, and young Parker Guidry is Lucas, the newest member of the staff, who also serves as our Narrator .Lisa Savegnago is our female writer who not only is funny, but adds something special to the stage. The lovely Jessica Lauren Fisher portrays Helen, the secretary who wants to move into the main room on the 23rd floor so she can create laughter as well. The rest of the cast- Kirk Osgood, Alex Levin ,Scott Edward Mills and Charlie Wein as the always late Ira, are all solid in character building. A pleasure to watch, but it is just not the best script for this company to offer. I am sure there are far better plays that this same cast could bring to Arlington Heights, and I hope they will.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $38 and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 847-577-2121 or online at www.MetropolisArts.com
There is plenty of free parking on the street and in the indoor garage. Downtown Arlington Heights is filled with dining opportunities and since this play is in the 1950’s, why not enjoy the mood and the food next door at the new Circa ’57 “Where the food is good…and the cars have fins!” . They can be reached at 847-392-1057 or online at www.circa-57.com. I enjoyed a wonderful pulled pork sandwich with some of the crispiest fries I have ever slathered ketchup on and Jane enjoyed a chicken and bacon sandwich. They also have a Crab Cake BLT, which I will do next visit. Great atmosphere, good food and servers that attend to every need. Check them out.
To see what others are saying about the play, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “laughter on the 23rd Floor).