Laughter on the 23rd Floor | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Laughter on the 23rd Floor 

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LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR, Open Eye Productions, at Angel Island. The actors in Malcolm Haymes's go-for-broke revival may lack the big resumes that came with the 1994 Briar Street local debut of this play, but they do comic justice to Neil Simon's loving look at the golden age of television. Sounding a lot like skits from the original Your Show of Shows, Simon's autobiographical work doles out guffaws as TV gag writers of the 50s (surrogates for Larry Gelbart, Selma Diamond, Imogene Coca, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, and Simon himself) clash and kvetch. Presiding is the benevolent czar of yuks Max Prince (Sid Caesar, of course). An apoplectic comic genius, Max punches holes through walls at the thought of Joe McCarthy and frets over the NBC programming morons who want everything for nothing--and, please, dumb it down.

With their stopwatch timing, the Open Eye ensemble show enough stand-up potential to start their own comedy club. As the eager young Neil Simon, Kevin Gladish makes us wish we were there. Sharpest among the warriors of wit are Noah Simon as a driven gagster who knows that humor comes from hunger, Jason Lubow as a contagiously funny hypochondriac, Mike Nelson as a chain-smoking would-be screenwriter, David Skvarla as a Russian comic from the real borscht belt, and Katherine Cohn as no token female.

As Max, Jim Harris sometimes forces the bluster, trying to make volume count as heft. But what company he keeps--a neurotic family of deft laughsmiths who can crack wise at Simon speed.

--Lawrence Bommer


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