Sunday, December 13, 2009

Laughter on the 23rd Floor, City Theatre, November 21 - December 20

There's no assembly more live-wire, unpredictable and funny than a room full of comedy writers. In Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon, director Andy Berkovsky and a wild, accomplished cast mint anew the eccentrics of the early days of television.

Word has gotten around about this show, which opened in November, took a long weekend's break for Thanksgiving, and will now be on the boards until just before Christmas. I planned to slip in on a Thursday night, usually a quieter time for theatre venues. The parking lot was full, and so was the theatre. They might have benefited from holiday spirits, but word of mouth and favorable reviews probably had a lot to do with it.

This is Simon's tribute to the wild clan that wrote Sid Caesar's Show of Shows, the variety and sketch show that had a huge following in the early days of television. Caesar hired Simon and his brother Danny on the strength of comedy sketches they staged at Camp Tamiment, an adult summer camp in the Poconos. In the play the young writer Lucas Brickman, played by the affably sincere Keith Yawn, serves as narrator, chorus and stand-in for Simon.

Simon presents the eight writers as magnificent New York eccentrics, mostly Jewish and mostly with recent ties to Europe -- principally to Russia and Poland. The show program provides Simon's one-paragraph sketch of each. Wikipedia matches them to the real-life writers Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, playwright Michael Stewart, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond and Woody Allen and Dave Caesar, Sid's brother.

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