If you’re looking for a fun diversion from the world, take a trip back in time to 1953 to visit Max Prince’s New York City writers’ room in Laughter on the 23rd Floor by Neil Simon, currently onstage at the Westchester Playhouse.
Based on Simon’s tenure as a young writer working for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, this extremely funny and touching show deals with how the battles Max Prince (the Caesar character) has with the network and how these battles affect his group of writers, loosely based on the actual Show of Shows writers, including Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks. Using newbie writer Lucas (Simon’s stand in) as narrator, we are offered a inside look at the wacky antics and infighting necessary to craft the weekly show.
The cast assembled here, under Stanley Brown’s direction, all hit the marks (although slightly less sharply as one might expect from Simon, my only small quibble with this production). Ben Lupejkis is wonderful as star Max Prince, giving the high-energy bravado of a mega-star as Prince/Caesar, as well as turning from an addled drunk to brilliant comedian on the turn of a dime. Matthew Abosamra’s exudes boyish charm and is able to find the right blend of humor and sentimentality to make the play work. Peter Miller as Milt, the office Lothario, breathes life into a somewhat stale archetype. Jeremy Palmer as Brian, the fame striving writer (and lone Gentile of the group) plays his role with a sharp wit along with a bit of smarm. Helen, the ditsy secretary who secretly pines to join the room, is well played by Julia McGowan. However, the standouts of the production are Nathan Gebhard as Russian-immigrant/head writer Val, Lou Saliba as the hypochondriac, always-late Ira and Lyndsay Palmer as Carol, the only woman writer in the room. All three actors have brilliant comedic timing and hit all the right notes while still imbuing their characters with a pathos that shows their humanity.
Stanley Brown and Shawn Plunkett’s set is pitch perfect, as are Kathy Dershimer’s costume designs. Kudos should be given to Michael Thorpe for his lighting design and Susan Stangl for her sound design. And a special mention must be made of the unknown creator of the video clips of the “Max Prince” show that start both acts – whoever created these with Lupejkis and other unnamed actors nailed the 50s look.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” presented by the Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse. Through August 6. KentwoodPlayers.org