1812 Productions Strikes Comedy Gold in LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR

by Arnie Finkel

Out of the memories of his time as a writer for Your Show of Shows, Neil Simon has given comedic actors a splendiferous gift in LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR.   Simon has recreated the fabled “writers’ room”  that was the creative home for, among others, Simon and his brother Danny,  Mel Tolkin, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Lucille Kallen and Woody Allen.  He doesn’t present each writer per se but an amalgam of their characteristics.  I’m sure each of the nine actors in the play appreciates Simon’s skill as much as the audience enjoyed seeing them on stage.

Pete Pryor, Anthony Lawton, Jennifer Childs, Mike Doherty, Chris Faith, Dave Jadico, Carl Wallnau in 1812 Productions' LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR. (Photo by Mark Garvin).

This is the finest piece of ensemble acting I’ve had the pleasure of watching in a very long time.  Director Matt Pfeiffer has everyone giving attention to group reactions that are as funny as the one-liners with which the script is liberally sprinkled.  His attention to striking stage pictures is superb.

The ever reliable and multi talented Pete Pryor gives a dynamic performance as Max, the Sid Caesar character.  He not only chews up, but literally destroys, the scenery.  The set (which must be repaired after each performance) David P. Gordon designed is a marvel. 

Michael Doherty as Lucas (the Neil Simon-like narrator) leads us through the play in a winning way.   Chris Faith as Val parlays his Russian accent into many laughs.  Carl Wallnau as Milt throws out the one-liners hilariously.  Dave Jadico as Kenny (the cerebral joke writer) and Anthony Lawton as Brian (the Irishman with the huge ego) live up to their well earned expectations and are very funny.  It’s nice to see the local actors in action.  David Ingram as Ira ( the hypochondriac and off the wall comic genius) gives an incredibly funny reading of what could have easily become a characterization rather than a real person.

On the distaff side, newcomer Kelly Vrooman as Helen( the secretary to these lunatics) makes the most of her big scene when she can’t think of a Chinese Jewish name.  She’s a welcome addition to the local scene.  What can I say about Jennifer Childs!  She is the guiding light of 1812 and never disappoints when she appears on stage.  As Carol (the only female on the writing staff) she squeezes all the laughs possible out of the character’s pregnancy.

All in all, a cast of actors even the great Sid Caesar would be proud to work with.  There’s not a moment that doesn’t work.

As with all of Neil Simon’s work I find there is a satisfying bit of sadness mixed in here.  It makes the comedy work better.  This production has the blessing of both Neil Simon and Sid Caesar. Be sure to read the comments in the program by Dramaturg Eddy Friedfeld. Mr. Friedfeld is the co-author of  Sid Caesar’s autobiography, “Caesar’s Hour” .  

1812 has decided to follow this play with an original companion piece called OUR SHOW OF SHOWS featuring many of the same players.  It will include classic bits of Your Show of Shows as well as original  material.  I can’t wait to see it.

by Neil Simon
Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
April 7 – May 8, 2011
at Plays and Players Theatre
1714 Delancey St
Philadelphia PA

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