Thursday through Saturday at the Adams Memorial Theatre DownStage, Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical Laughter on the 23rd Floor had its audiences laughing uproariously. The play, a Cap and Bells production directed by Jason Greenburg ’01, was absolutely hilarious.
Foregrounded against the Red Scare of the 1950s, Laugher revolves around a group of comedy writers whose popular television variety show is facing problems because its studio is more interested in the bottom line than in humor. The narrator of the play represents Simon. All of the other characters are caricatures of his real-life colleagues from the Sid Ceaser Show, including the comic geniuses Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.
Simon is at his comic best here; gag follows gag without giving the audience a moment between laughs. The jokes are numerous and exceedingly funny. The Sid Caesar character, a comedian named Max Prince, played by Seth Earn ’01, and the show’s writers attempt to outdo each other with zany physical comedy and witty wordplay. The cast of Laughter masterfully succeeded in portraying the vivid personalities of Simon’s incredibly entertaining characters. Ben Warner ’99 gave a strong and energetic performance as Ira, a wacky hypochondriac, who had to confront the possibility of his imminent demise. Warner’s performance was not the only notable one. The entire cast was highly effective; everyone had nearly impeccable comic timing, which helped to maximize the effect of each joke or gag.
Matt Roessing ’01 played Kenny, the most sophisticated of Prince’s writers. One of the play’s most comic scenes occurred when Roessing unleashed a hilarious torrent of anger at Warner. Completely losing his gentlemanly urbanity, Roessing exploded at Warner’s claim that great writers like Dostoyevsky were crazy. With all seriousness, he screams that they were talented crazy. He, on the other hand, is wasting his time as a writer crazy. This outburst provides a striking contrast to the Kenny that the audience had watched in previous scenes. The massive emotional shift heightens the hilarity of the incident. This scene was not alone its comic effect. All of the actors performed with panache and emotional range. Whether telling jokes or enacting total absurdities the cast was on the mark. Also notable was, Ian Lockhart ’02, who played Val. Lockhart did well with his flawless Russian accent and adept delivery.
Another of the play’s humorous scenes unfolded as one of the writers desperately tried to avoid Max’s gaze. Max did everything in his power to attract attention in a long diatribe about the shortcoming of his studio.
The only elements in Laughter that were at all weak were found in the role of the lone woman writer, Carol. Rachel Mayer ’99 played her well. The weaknesses resulted from a weak role more than a weak performance.
This was an excellent production by Greenburg and Cap and Bells. It kept me laughing throughout. With its endless barrage of humor and strong performances, Laughter provided quite an entertaining evening of theater. If you missed this play, then you really missed out.