Monday, February 10, 2014

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at Ocean State Theatre

by Richard Pacheco
            “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” currently at Ocean State Theatre is a wildly funny and merry romp into the world of television in the 1950’s into a hit comedy show. A terrific ensemble cast sparks this vividly to life with loads of  laughter and some great comic timing. It is hilarious, a real treat. Inspired by Simon's early career experience as a junior writer (along with his brother Danny) for “Your Show of Shows,” the play focuses on Sid Caesar-like Max Prince, the star of a weekly comedy-variety show circa 1953, and his staff, including Simon's alter-ego Lucas Brickman, who maintains a running commentary on the writing, fighting, and wacky antics which take place in the writers' room. Max has an ongoing battle with NBC executives, who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America.
            The work is a roman à clef, with the characters in the play based on Neil Simon's co-writers on “Your Show Of Shows” The real-life inspirations: the Sid Caesar-inspired Max Prince", hypochondriac Ira, inspired by Mel Brooks, dryly witty, sane Kenny, inspired by Larry Gelbart and Carl Reiner, and "fussy Russian émigré” inspired by Mel Tolkin and Carol, inspired by Lucille Kalle.
The show is mart and funny—and I trouble with the network. First, the network wants to cut it to an hour from 90 minutes. Then the bosses insist that they trim the budget by firing one of the writers. By the time of the 1953 Christmas party, the situation has deteriorated. (And although Sid Caesar and many of his writers went on to other series, “Your Show of Shows” ran only from 1950 to 1954.)  As Kenny says, “Maybe we’ll never have this much fun again in our entire lives.”
Max, the Sid Caesar character is more than a little bit nuts. At times he is stark raving, but very funny when he is. The fabulous Fred Sullivan Jr., a longtime member of  the Trinity Rep acting company delivers yet another tour de force performance as the wacky Max. he has a volatile energy and remarkable stage presence. He is a real treat in the role. Max is a tortured genius, very funny but truly nutty and eccentric in so many ways. This is Sullivan’s debut on the Ocean State Theatre stage and a wining one it is.
Matt DaSilva is Lucas, the Simon alter ego in the play. Lucas is uncertain, a novice with desire and talent but not yet full of self confidence yet. DaSilva handle it all with likeable flair and finesse.
Jean-Pierre Ferragamo as Milt also stands out in this wonderful cast. He has a keen sense of coming timing and a great sense of physical comedy, both of which he delivers with skill and expertise.
Tommy Labanaris as Ira.a writer who is extreme hypochondriac and perpetually late for work for a variety of heath reasons. Lananaris also shines in the role. He is adept at physical comedy and quick with the one liners as well.  He is a delight and delvers the laughs
Aimee  Turner, the producing artistic director of Ocean State makes her stage debut with the theatre here and shines as the sole female writer on the show, Carol.
The rest of the strong cast consists of Mark S. Cartier as Val, Tyler Fish as Kenny and Tom Andrew as Brian. While they are not as distinct as characters as the other writers, these actors shine in their roles, adding to the hectic , frenetic and very funny atmosphere.
Director Brad Van Grack keeps this merry romp always on track, full of witty interchange and physical comedy. It is his directorial debut with the company and an auspicious one it it.
The set by Kimberly V. Powers is excellent and really captures the 1950’s New York office flavor. The costumes by Brian Horton are also period perfect and effective.
The terrific cast has a great time throughout it all and it is contagious to the audience was well. They got a well deserved standing ovation at the end.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor”  Jan. 29 – Feb. 16
@ 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, WARWICK RI

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