Raven Theatre’s ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ Serves Justice to Neil Simon Masterpiece

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HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Part slapstick and part Henny Youngman-style one-liner schtick, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a classic American comedy that still rings funny no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Chosen by Chicago’s Raven Theatre to close out its 25th year, director Michael Menendian and his cast of quick wits do the Neil Simon masterpiece great justice. Originally produced in 1993, the play seems largely inspired by Neil Simon’s experiences as a joke writer on “Your Show of Shows” where he worked with Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin and brother Danny Simon.

Eric Roach as Max Prince, Mackenzie Kyle as Carol Wyman and Noah Simon (seated) as Milt Fields in Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Raven Theatre through July 26, 2008
Eric Roach as Max Prince, Mackenzie Kyle as Carol Wyman and Noah Simon (seated) as Milt Fields in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at the Raven Theatre through July 26, 2008.
Photo credit: Dean La Prairie

In “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a group of television comedy writers squabble and tease each other all under awe of larger-than-life television personality Max Prince.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor in Chicago at the Raven Theatre
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” performs in Chicago at the Raven Theatre through July 26, 2008.
Photo credit: Raven Theatre

The personal lives of the characters seem secondary to the major issues of putting up a weekly sketch-comedy show and dealing with network censorship against the ominous backdrop of McCarthyism in the 1950s.

Lucas Brickman – a junior writer for the show – gives running commentary among the zingers and pseudo-psychotic behavior of the creative team of “The Max Prince Show”.

While Lucas isn’t a leading-man character, actor Dan Granata masterfully plays the role of ambassador to the audience and plays well against their energy. Eric Roach’s Max Prince feels more Jackie Gleason than Sid Caesar. You can immediately feel his presence when he enters the room.

The rest of the actors each bring something unique to characters that have been interpreted hundreds of times. They make this production interesting to watch even if you’ve seen the show ad nauseam. Letting Simon’s jokes sell themselves takes center stage in this gag-saturated script.

While the Raven Theatre has a great space, the wide-open staging at times seems almost counterintuitive for this show. Past productions I’ve seen have had the bagel tray almost directly on top of the writer’s table.

At the Raven’s East Stage, the scenery is so widely spaced that the tone of the play seems less tense than I’ve seen in other productions.

Eric Roach as Max Prince, Mackenzie Kyle as Carol Wyman and Noah Simon (seated) as Milt Fields in Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Raven Theatre through July 26, 2008
Left to right: Eric Roach, Jeremy Glickstein, Dean La Prairie, Noah Simon, Greg Caldwell and Greg Hardin in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at the Raven Theatre through July 26, 2008.
Photo credit: Michael Menendi

Rather than feeling like the writers are a family who live in closed quarters – constantly bickering and in each other’s business – it feels more like attention-starved friends trying to best each other with snappy comebacks.

Sometimes you’ll miss a quick one-liner while trying to whip your head from a neurotic Jew droning at a table to a drunken Russian over by a coffeemaker. Menendian imaginatively plays up the physical comedy and uses the space to elongate zany chases.

Despite the serious issues addressed in the play including the Red Scare and the changing face of television, the Raven’s production is fun and light-hearted.

The actors all have natural ability for comedy and the timing of each bit makes the show fly by. Neil Simon’s comedies can always be counted on for belly laughs. The Raven Theatre’s production of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” delivers on that promise.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” runs through July 26, 2008 at the Raven Theatre at 6157 N. Clark St. in Chicago. The play runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 28, 2008. While tickets are $25 for adults or $20 for students, they’re half price with this link.


For a complete listing of all shows and reviews in Chicago, visit our partner TheatreInChicago.com. For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Dustin Levell

By DUSTIN LEVELL
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
dustin@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2008 Dustin Levell, HollywoodChicago.com

BR's picture

I saw this play

I saw it in previews, it was pretty funny.  I’d recommend it!

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