Back in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most prolific—and best—comedy writers was Neil Simon. Mr. Simon, usually called “Doc” Simon, started writing for TV, making his names on shows such as The Robert Q. Lewis Show, The Phil SIlvers Show (better known as “Sergent Bilko”), and most notably, “Your Show of Shows“, where he was part of a writing team that included Sid Caeser (the host), Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Danny Simon, Mel Tolken, and others. Later, Simon went on to write numerous comedy plays, such as “Little Me”, “Sweet Charity”, “The Star-Spangled Girl”, “The Odd Couple”, “Barefoot in the Park”, “The Sunshine Boys”, “The Good Doctor”, “God’s Favorite”, “Chapter Two”, “They’re Playing Our Song”, “I Ought to Be in Pictures”, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “Biloxi Blues”, “Broadway Bound”, “Jake’s Women”, “The Goodbye Girl”, and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”, His work seemed to go out of fashion in the late 1990s and in this century; you certainly don’t see many Neil Simon-style comedies anymore. But if you get the chance, you should go see one: they are pretty much guaranteed to give you a laugh.
I mention this all as a form of introduction, for last night we went to REP East to see their production of “Doc” Simon’s 1993 comedy, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor“. This play tells a fictionalized story based on Simon’s experience as a writer on “Your Show of Shows”. The play focuses on Sid Caesar/Jackie Gleason-like Max Prince, the star of a weekly comedy-variety show in the early 1950s and his staff, including Simon’s alter-ego Lucas Brickman, who maintains a running commentary on the writing, fighting, and wacky antics which take place in the writers’ room. At the plot’s core is Max’s ongoing battles with NBC executives who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America. If you’ve ever seen the original Dick Van Dyke show, this is the equivalent of the writers room scenes (but then again, who am I kidding… most folks today don’t remember the original Dick Van Dyke show). The characters in the show have a rough correspondence to real comedy acting and writing greats; in addition to the Lucas Brickman/Neil Simon correspondence and the Max Prince/Sid Caesar-Jackie Gleason correspondence, we have Kenny Franks to Larry Gelbart, Val Slotsky to Mel Tolkin, Brian Doyle to Michael Stewart, Milt Fields to Carl Reiner, Carol Wyman to Selma Diamond, Ira Stone to Mel Brooks, and Harry Prince to Dave Caesar (Sid’s brother). As you can see: comedy greats all (I know these names may not be familiar to all of you, but trust me, they’re great).
A show such as this requires a number of things to be successful. First and foremost, it requires a cast willing to go the extra mile to get the funny. Second, it requires a director that can extract that funny out of the cast. Lastly, it requires quick comic timing. I’m please to say that the REP production had all of these. Under the direction of Brad Sergi (assisted by Bill Quinn), the production was fast paced, crazy, frantic, and hilarious.
Of course, the cast were no slouches either. The cast consisted of Cameron Fife (Lucas Brickman), Nathan T. Inzerillo (Milt Fields), Daniel Lenchæ (Val Slotsky), Jymn Magon (Brian Doyle), Michael Hanna (Kenny Franks), Amber Van Schwinn (Carol Wyman), Jack Impellizzeriæ (Max Prince), and Kyle Kulishæ (Ira Stone). Supporting all this was Shannon Bouknight as Helen, the secretary. This team was great. Memorable moments include the fierceness and drive of Amber as Carol, the towering size of Jack as Max (I’m not sure Caeser towered like that; he actually made me thing more of Jack Paar), seeing Daniel in a role that wasn’t so serious, and interactions of Jymn as Brian. But all were just wonderful.
[æ denotes members of Actors Equity ]
Turning to the technical… the set, for the first time in a long time, was not done by Jeff Hyde—this production featured a set created by the O’s artistic director, Ovington Michael Owston. Lighting and sound were by REP regulars Tim Christianson and Steven “Nanook” Burkholder. Christina Gonzalez provided Costume coordination, prop management, and served as the stage manager.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” continues at REP East Playhouse until October 22. Tickets are available through the REP online box office; you may also be able to find them through Goldstar. The last show of the REP season will be “The Graduate“, running November 18 – December 17, 2011.
REP 2012 Season Announced! In the program for this show, the REP announced their 2012 season (no dates yet): “Jewtopia” by Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson (in a return appearance); “Journey’s End” by R.C. Sherriff (rights pending); “The Great American Trailer Park Musical with book by Betsy Kelso and music and lyrics by David Nehls (I think this is the LA premier production); “The Laramie Project” by Moises Kaufman, “Playdates” by Sam Wolfson; “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” by Steven Dietz (rights pending), and the hilarious “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson.
Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: October starts with “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1. The following Saturday is taken with Yom Kippur, but Sunday will see us at the No Ho Arts Center for Boomermania. The third weekend of October is currently open. The fourth weekend of October brings “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22. The last weekend of October brings “Victor Victoria” at the Malibu Stage Company on Saturday; Sunday is being held for “Come Fly Away” at the Pantages (pending ticketing). November will start with “The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT on November 5. It will also bring “Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire (We’re working Veterans Day, but we’re not sure about the weekend yet). It may also bring “Riverdance” at the Pantages (held for November 20, pending ticketing), and “Bring It On” at the Ahmanson (held for November 25, pending ticketing, hottix on sale October 4). Thanksgiving weekend also brings the last show of the REP season, “The Graduate”, on Saturday November 26. Also of potential interest, if time is available, are “A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day” at the El Portal (Nov 2-20) and “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant” at the Secret Rose (9/30-11/20). The first weekend of December is lost preparing for ACSAC, although I might squeeze in something on Saturday. The next weekend is busy, with a Mens Club Shabbat in the morning, and “Travels with my Aunt” at the Colony Theatre in the evening. The remainder of December is unscheduled, but I’m sure we’ll fill things in for Winter Break. Of course, there is the de rigueur movie and Chinese food on Christmas day. As always, open dates are subject to be filled in with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.