The Little Theatre Group’s production of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” travels back to the Golden Age of Television to deliver what’s promised in the show’s title: laughs.
Set in 1953, the action takes place in the writers’ room of a popular variety program, “The Max Prince Show,” during an era of conservatism, sexism and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. The play is based on Simon’s own experience as a comedy writer on the Sid Caesar variety program “Your Show of Shows.”
On opening night last Friday, the talented Little Theatre Group cast succeeded in capturing the lunacy and humor of Simon’s menagerie of wacky characters.
Noel Montagano gave a strong performance as paranoid and delusional genius Max Prince. Addicted to tranquilizers and alcohol, he alternates between rage and confusion. When the network wants to cut his over-budget, 90-minute program down to 60 minutes, he attempts to fight it.
Lucas Brickman, played by Salomon Ocon, narrates the struggles of the show for the theater audience. As the new writer on the program, he is desperately trying to get recognized by Prince.
The show’s writers are an egocentric group who attempt to outdo each other with jokes. As the character Milt Field, played by a flamboyantly caped Ricardo Jiménez, says, “If Max Prince laughs, my kids eat this week.”
Russian immigrant Val Skolsky, played by Dave Nisson, proclaims that “all humor is based on hostility” during one of many altercations between two fellow writers. Chain-smoking Irish-American Brian Doyle, played by David Hixon, wants to move to Hollywood and become a screenwriter, while hypochondriac Ira Stone, played by Jim Trollinger, arrives late to work each day suffering from some new ailment, and Kenny Franks, played by Dennis Atkinson, pops nicotine tablets to get his cigarette fix. As the only female writer among this group of men, Carol Wyman, played by Larissa Banting, “doesn’t want to be considered a good woman writer, but a good writer.” And rounding out the group is Prince’s secretary, Helen, played by Ana Jeannette Arias, who dreams of one day becoming a comedy writer even though she isn’t funny.
Skillfully led by director Tom Humes, the cast delivered a solid performance with superb comic timing that kept the laughs coming consistently during the two-hour performance. This show is sure to entertain and delight audiences.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” produced by Lisa DeFuso, runs through Dec. 4 at the Laurence Olivier Theater in San José, at Avenida 2, Calle 28, next to Sala Garbo. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. For reservations, call 8858-1446 or go to www.little theatregroup.org.