There’s comedy tonight with Laughter on the 23rd Floor, at the Golden Apple.
By Kay Kipling
You don’t have to be old enough to remember Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows to enjoy Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, but it probably helps a little. There’s a fine sheen of nostalgia overlaying this comedy, which goes behind the scenes with the comedy writers of a television program much like the famed Caesar show of the early 1950s. But if you weren’t around when it first aired, you can always try to rent videos or DVDs of the episodes that remain available (some, unfortunately, were lost).
Simon, who wrote for the talented but volatile Caesar, is not the first graduate of the show to write about the formative experience; Carl Reiner admitted that the Dick Van Dyke Show owed a debt to his time at Your Show of Shows, and Mel Brooks’ My Favorite Year certainly captured some of the same frenetic humor of the early days of live TV. Laughter puts young Lucas Brickman (Joey Panek in the current Golden Apple Dinner Theatre production) into the Simon role, a newbie to the writers’ room who’s hoping to make it a lasting job.
There’s plenty of healthy—and perhaps not so healthy—competition from the other writers: Milt (Michael Bajjaly), who tries to stand out with his wardrobe in case his jokes fail; Brian (Christopher Swan), who’s perpetually announcing he’s moving to Hollywood; Kenny (John Russo), who’s relatively level-headed and concerned about the show’s mercurial star; Carol (Kyle Ennis Turoff), the lone woman on the staff, who’s determined to play along with the boys; and Ira (Sam Mossler), whose late arrivals and hypochondria drive everyone else crazy.
There’s also head writer Val (Cliff Roles), a Russian whose accent and impatience make him ripe for teasing by the others. And then there’s Max Prince himself (Tom Bengston), who’s larger than life and charismatic, but also more than a little crazy and drug-dependent.
The cast of the Golden Apple's Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
Throw into the mix some more serious aspects, like the Red-hunting paranoia of Sen. Joe McCarthy and its effects on network television execs, and Laughter successfully brings back an era in American and show biz history.
Not every laugh in the Simon script was mined on opening night; the pacing flagged occasionally. But the show is well cast, with everyone getting a chance to show what they can do. Bengston as Max is properly the center of attention when he’s onstage; Roles demonstrates good comic timing; and Mossler and Bajjaly, in particular, also render highly recognizable comic figures. Overall, Laughter dominates right now on the first floor of the Golden Apple.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor runs through Nov. 18; call 366-5454 or go online at thegoldenapple.com.