By Paul Atreides
Author, playwright, and Theatre critic at EatMoreArtVegas.com
I’d very much like to bring Neil Simon back for a quick interview.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor is Neil Simon’s fourth installment of his semi-autobiographic series that began with Brighton Beach Memoirs, continued with Biloxi Blues, and went on to Broadway Bound, all with the same narrating character of Eugene Jerome. Laughter covers the time he spent as a writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and Ceasar’s Hour, both comedy-variety for NBC in the 1950s.
So, why, oh why, was this alter-ego character named Lucas Brickman?
Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT) has done the trilogy so it’s fitting they finally tackled this. It’s a very funny script mixed with laughter and poignancy and, under the direction of Gillen Brey, this production hits almost all the right notes. Timing is crucial with a comedy built on one-liners and this cast is up to the challenge.
Lucas, played by Spencer Kush, opens the show. He narrates, setting the scene and moving the timeline along. Kush starts subdued, which might befit his intern entry to the writer’s room, but this is a telling of the tale. He’s remembering these incidents. It would have more impact during narration to exude the confidence of a man who made the grade, then switch to meek within the first scene. Kush manages to bring a sense of growth over the arc of the play.
Head writer Val Slotsky, a Russian immigrant, is played to perfection by Steve McMillan. His timing and delivery are excellent, and he never loses the dialect. He’s alternately halting and commanding as the situation changes and McMillan switches with ease.
Marty Weaver is a hoot as Ira Stone, the hypochondriac often thought to be based on Woody Allen. The hilarious variety of ailments and chronic lateness become a running gag and Weaver delivers it all with aplomb.
The big dreamer in the room is Brian Doyle, played by Michael Blair, the only non-Jewish writer, and a Hollywood and Broadway script-writer wannabe. Blair brings his entire instrument to the game. He matches his physical and vocal adding to the delivery with a spot-on sense of comedic timing.
Carol Wyman is the only woman writer in the room, and Erika Petra does a wonderful job. Petra particularly nails it in the scene where she kvetches about wanting to be thought of as a writer–one of the guys–with a series of perfectly punctuated F-bombs.
Maxim Lardent plays Max Prince, the star on the fictional TV show. Prince is neurotic with a heart of pure gold and as big as the state of Texas. Lardent stalls in the first act, but comes out swinging in Act 2. His ability to turn a phrase, to bluster and exhibit love for the staff all at the same time, is nothing short of amazing.
Rounding out the writers are Alex Bassett as Milt Fields and Sean Clark as Kenny Franks. They both bring excellence to their roles. Clark with his small stature and delivery and Bassett with his physical comedy add tons of hilarity. The final cast member is Christina Ellie Perez as Helen, the receptionist-secretary whose wish is to become a writer and simply doesn’t have the imaginative chops for it. Perez manages to hold her own among this talented cast.
Ron Lindblom’s set is wondrous, looking exactly as you’d expect for a room full of zany writers, with period detail down to the portraits on the walls. Add in Ginny Adams’ lighting and great period costumes by Julie Horton and you’ve got all the ingredients for a hit.
What: Laughter on the 23rd Floor
When: 8 p.m. Friday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov 5
2 p.m. Saturday, Oct 28
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre - Mainstage, 3920 Schiff Drive
Grade: ****1/2 Delicious
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Gillen Brey; Set Design: Ron Lindblom; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Costumes: Julie Horton; Sound: Lisa Tollefson; Stage Manager: Jim Braun