Variety in the cast, variety in the jokes, variety in the audience. LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR tells the story of a group of variety show comedy writers that were to become the early kings of comedy. First they had to overcome censorship and regulations from a network that felt the show was too smart for the viewing audience. With all the so called reality shows that are popular today, it seems like dumbing-it-down is still the way to go after all these years.
Right from the start, Director Jim Kirkwood warmed up the audience just as other live pre-show hosts might have done. Throughout the show, we meet an eclectic cast of characters of all ages, backgrounds and levels of sanity. No religion, nationality or political party is safe when the jokes start to fly. Even audience members are pulled into the action, and the lighting designer (Scott Connard) also makes himself known in order to add a few laughs. Both Ira (Robert Scott Miller) and Max (Joe Perignot) do their part to contribute to set design and decor, making sure set crew members Barbara Emch and David Riffert are never bored after every show. There’s no shortage of variety or laughter on the floor of the T&C barn.
Writing room newbie, Lucas (Chris Baldino), is always breaking the fourth wall to narrate to the audience, filling us in on character backstories and the future. At times this tactic seems like a lazy way to give information, until Ira bursts on set in a hypochondriac panic, ripping down the fourth wall to involve the audience in his lunacy.
One by one, we meet the rest of the writing staff including:
Milt (Vincent Pileggi), who combines his flair for fashion with his quick-witted one liners to make himself one wild and crazy guy. Pileggi brought just enough sass and class to pull this off.
Val (Mitch Aglow), is a Russian Jew, which automatically makes him a natural comedic genius. The fact that he can’t correctly pronounce the F word makes him that much more endearing.
Brian (Dave Sharper), is an Irish smoker who dreams of Hollywood stardom and is convinced that once the studios read his script, which is locked away in his brain, he’ll be set for life. I’m sure all writers can relate to the “it’s all stored in my head” excuse.
Kenny (Rush Loughry), is the level headed comic of the group, maybe because he’s from California and enjoys golf. Loughry does a nice job balancing out the craziness of the group with his more cool and calm humor.
Carol (Linda Walsh), is the typist who’s all business in the beginning, raving about political conspiracies that are no laughing matter. Even though she’s the only woman in the writing room, she can hold her own. Maybe that’s because she sees herself as a writer first, woman second, and in a room full of testosterone it’s easy to misplace your womanly point of view. However, we’re reminded of her femininity once she shows up pregnant and full of hormones. I can relate to Walsh the most, not just because I’m female, but because I felt the sense of writer pride she brought to her role.
Max Prince (Joe Perignot), the boss man who’s not fan of memos, crew neck socks, or people who wall-paper their garage, and believes a cigar is not just a cigar. He’s rigid and gruff, but completely comfortable spending Act I in his underwear. Perignot does an excellent job balancing his moments of quiet, calm rumbling with his frequent heated explosions. He gives many odes to writers, calling them family, which I can also appreciate. Then he can turn around and transform Julius Caesar into Marlon Brando and make complete sense when equating potatoes and beef brisket to love.
Helen (Kristin Baldino), is a typical, high pitched NYC gum smacking secretary, who dreams of writing comedy, but can’t tell a joke. Baldino does double duty as the show’s Producer, inviting Helen out during the raffle give away during intermission.
Obviously, there’s a lot of laughter throughout the show, by both the audience and the characters themselves. I’m not sure whether it was part of the script to laugh at themselves and each other, or if they just couldn’t hold it in, but in end it worked out fine.
I can sum up the show in 2 lousy words, New York. The writing room was filled with just as much ballsiness and diversity as the great melting pot that is NYC. You can tell the characters and actors are just as passionate about what they do as a New Yorker is passionate about their beloved city.
LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR
by Neil Simon
Directed by Jim Kirkwood
August 12-27, 2011
Town and Country Players
4158 York Rd.