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Monday, 07 April 2014 22:50

Thanks for the memory play: 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor'

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Thanks for the memory play: 'Laughter on the 23rd Floor'
hawthorneplayers.com

Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is a memory play. A writer remembers his younger days and the people he worked with on his first job in the big time.

The narrator is pretty much Simon himself. The people the narrator worked with wrote for a popular TV show of the early 1950s that's very much like "Your Show of Shows" that Simon worked on.

The play's characters are based on the writers on that show. All but one are Jewish. All but one are men. Being comedy writers, they spend much of their time trying to top each other with one liners. That may not be an efficient way to write a TV show, but it does make for a very entertaining evening of theatre.

As we all know, dying is easy, comedy is hard. But you don't see the difficulty as you watch the cast at Hawthorne Players' current production of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor." They rarely miss a beat. They place that beat just where it should be. Under Peter Banholzer's skillful and precise direction, they equal or, more often, surpass the best work I've seen them do before.

Danny Grumich, in the Neil Simon role, is the new kid, still a little reticent as the jokes explode all around him. But he's a gracious host as he guides us through his memories.

Jeffrey Loyd often dominates a scene by the understated way he delivers his character's sharp wit. Danny Brown plays the Russian immigrant who is supposed to herd these anarchic cats. Robert Doyle plays Brian Doyle, the Catholic among the Jews. John Robertson plays dapper and relatively sober Kenny Franks in mustache and suit. Kathryn Weber plays the sole woman among the writers, extremely pregnant during the second act, though Kelsey Ruthman pops in and out of the room as the secretary who wants to write comedy herself. Larry Quiggins gets to go big as the Mel Brooks figure, victim of every known and many unknown illnesses.

But nobody is bigger than the star of the show. Todd Micali does Sid Caesar not just big and broad but inventively funny and, for all the apparent wildness, precisely controlled.

The lights of New York shine outside Larry Marsh's farce-ready set, brightly illuminated by Carl Wennlund's lights. Tracey Newcomb's costumes contribute to the laughter, with a cheery sound design by Brian Borgstede.

The minimal plot of "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" – mostly the star's battles with the network's executives – provides an excuse for the jokes. And that's all it needs to do.

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