Friday, March 18, 2011

Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon, Austin Playhouse, February 25 - March 27

Laughter on the 23rd Floor Neil Simon Austin Playhouse

Neil Simon's set-up for Laughter on the 23rd Floor is simple and classic, if you can abstract from the biographic aspects of it. A newcomer enthusing about his new job discovers that his work colleagues are eccentrics, each more bizarre and devastatingly verbal than the previous one. Their employer, initially unseen, has enormous stature with the public, but they all know that he is a generous, distracted borderline psycho. Set 'em ricocheting off one another, bring the boss in, interrupt it from time to time as the newcomer addresses the audience with a rueful smile. Eventually, toward the middle of the second half, pressures from craven commercialism and the indifference to genius of the unwashed bring about the disbanding of the work unit, with much sentiment among its members and the megalomaniac disbelief of the boss.

With slight adjustments and a naval theme, you could be on board ship with Mr. Roberts or with Captain Queeg or with William Bligh. Or before Agincourt with Henry V. These few, this band of brothers, they bind together and then disappear into memory, greater and even more eccentric than they really were. This particular ship is an office in a New York skyscraper where the eccentrics are comedy sketch writers, the boss is a neurotic comedy star on live television in the early 1950's, and the newcomer is a surrogate for the playwright, Neil Simon.

Simon and his brother Danny did indeed write for live television before Simon embarked on his series of sweet and often nostalgic comedies. Sid Caesar saw a review they'd put together in a Catskills resort and hired them to write for his Show of Shows with a team that included the most successful writers, comedians and writer-comedians of the time. The Wikipedia article on this piece offers a table linking Simon's eccentrics with the real live eccentrics who probably inspired them, including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbard, Carl Reiner and more.

No comments:

Post a Comment