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Keegan Theatre Laughter on the 23rd Floor

By • Jan 26th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon
Keegan Theatre
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through February 18th
2:15 with one intermission
$35/$30 Students and Seniors
Reviewed January 23rd, 2012

Keegan Theatre’s current production of Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor demonstrates both humor and finesse. The play is based on Simon’s real-life experiences writing for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows in the 1950s. Lucas Brickman (Neil Simon’s caricature of himself, played here by John Loughney) opens the show with a direct address to the audience, and he reveals that he is determined to prove himself as the newest writer on the staff of The Max Prince Show. After this exposition, Simon introduces Lucas’s wildly eccentric coworkers. It turns out that The Max Prince Show has started garnering a little too much attention, and the network execs are beginning to look at it a little too closely for the writers’ comfort. The group begins to worry about artistic principles, and further volatility comes with the looming threats of budget cuts, censorship, and McCarthy’s blacklist.

The cast is a strong one. The actors function collectively as a well-oiled comedic machine without trying too hard. Though the entire cast is very good, Ray Ficca shines as the unintentionally funny and layered Max Prince (the acclaimed star of the comedy show who happens to be a paranoid drug addict). Ficca’s portrayal is the kind of seamless work that is exciting to see–with a spot-on Brando impression, to boot. The rest of the cast works well together, finding moments of humor and just as easily finding moments of quiet.

Colin Smith’s clear direction is evident in every aspect, yet it is not overstated. All parts of the whole contribute to Smith’s conceptual balance between the uproariously funny and the wistfully bittersweet. The script itself is rich with affection for “the business,” and as the audience gets to know this ensemble of writers, they begin to see the intimacy that develops from mutual creativity. This, at its core, is what drives everything else. It is the reason Max Prince can so comfortably walk around the office in his underwear for the entirety of Act 1 without embarrassment. Smith does a fine job of getting the entire artistic team to orbit this nucleus.

The set (Samina Vieth) is the writers’ room on the 23rd floor, complete with a bagel-and-schmear table. The interior is complemented by a more representational window sky-scape of New York City. It serves the action well, and it is real enough to be a bit gritty and believable; however, the window creates a slightly more ideal world. Erin Nugent’s costumes are well-contemplated, authentic, and, in some cases, funny. Lighting designer Allan Sean Weeks successfully creates the right amount of nostalgia and romanticism that this creative realm holds. Jake Null (sound) perpetuates this with transitional snippets of 1950’s television fare. The effect is that of a surreal, fast-paced environment back in the “good old days.”

Keegan Theatre’s take on this Neil Simon piece is a gratifying theatre experience. It will undoubtedly make you laugh–and also think a little, too. The production has that certain “I don’t know what” about it that one always hopes to have at the theatre. It is particularly interesting that Keegan has put it on in the nation’s capital, where we have our own brand of network execs to deal with–but that’s a whole different kind of theatre.

Cast

  • Alison Leigh Corke: Helen
  • Matt Dewberry: Milt Fields
  • Ray Ficca: Max Prince
  • Kevin Hasser: Kenny Franks
  • Michael Innocenti: Ira Stone
  • Brianna Letourneau: Carol Wyman
  • John Loughney: Lucas Brickman
  • Bradley Foster Smith: Val Skolsky
  • Dan Van Why: Brian Doyle

Artistic Team

  • Carol Baker: Set Dresser/Properties
  • Lauren A. Miller: Stage Manager
  • Erin Nugent: Costume Designer
  • Jake Null: Sound Designer
  • Colin Smith: Director
  • Samina Vieth: Set Designer
  • Katrina Wiskup: Properties
  • Allan Sean Weeks: Light Design

Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor’s of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.

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