It’s never the wrong moment for a Neil Simon comedy. Stage Door Players have brought us some good ones in the past: “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot in the Park” in recent years, just to name a couple.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a special, very personal Simon piece. It’s based on his formative days writing for early television, namely Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” What a time. Multiple giants somehow fit themselves into Caesar’s writing rooms: Mel Brooks; Simon; Larry Gelbart; even Woody Allen, at a later time.
It’s difficult to imagine the chemical reaction of pouring such combustible comic geniuses into one potion; but Simon helps us do that. The year is 1953, and Lucas Brickman, the playwright’s alter-ego, introduces the audience to the characters and their workday activities, which included just about everything but actual writing.
An Eisenhower-era ADHD convention, held in a loony bin, might look something like this. Each writer has his own special schtick, his own personal brand of neurosis that helps him be funny.
But comedy heaven is threatened by network melodrama (and the Caesar character, Max Prince, is a world-class melodramatic). NBC is wary; isn’t a network always wary? It wants “more crap” on the show, and less, you know, thinking stuff. The sponsors “sell crap”; shouldn’t the content match?
Prince wants to take his stand, to rage against the machine, to fight back. The writers aren’t so feisty; they need the paychecks. Meanwhile, Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade is drawing too close for comfort.
Like seemingly everything in pop culture these days, the play hits a jangling, contemporary note here and there. But you’ll be laughing too hard to stop and think about it. Director Kate Donadio MacQueen’s production is both smooth and hilarious from start to finish, and it goes by far too quickly.
The talented cast includes Matt Baum (Kenny), Erin Burnett (Carol), Mark Gray (Milt), David Allen Grindstaff (Ira), Shaun MacLean (Lucas), Daniel Parvis (Brian), and Doyle Reynolds (Val) as the writers. Stage Door’s Artistic Director Robert Egizio takes a turn on the boards as Max Prince, while Rachel Frawley portrays his zany secretary. These wonderful actors will keep you laughing all while reminding us why we put on a brave face and keep trying to make great work.
The production team includes J.D. Williams (lighting design), Chuck Welcome (set design/scenic artist), Rial Ellsworth (sound design), Jim Alford (costume design), Kathy Ellsworth (properties design), George Deavours (wig design), and Bill Byrne (stage manager).
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” continues through Aug. 4 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. There is one additional performance on Thursday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $33 for adults, $30 for seniors, $22 for students and $15 for youth under 12 years. Please be advised this show contains mature language.
Stage Door Players is located in the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center, 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody and on the web at www.stagedoorplayers.net. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 770-396-1726.