Clever banter fuels play

Forbidden Planet Productions’ rendition of Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a resounding hit. Under the careful direction of Allison Wottawa, it will keep the audience in stitches for the duration of the performance, and possibly well into the night.

The audience is given a backstage pass into the realm of the writer’s room of a comic variety show, “The Max Prince Show.” Based upon Simon’s experience working on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” the play delves into the chaos that surrounded the production of a landmark comedy in television’s Golden Age. The distinct personalities of these nine wacky characters are the central focus of the play.

Max, played by Elliott Hoffman, is the most energetic and lively character of the group. The audience is sure to enjoy the way he immerses himself into the character, contorting body and face to add to the tension and frustration that can be seen in this outrageous character. He is the star, the hero for this cast of zany writers, but has become a depressed, tranquilizer-popping alcoholic.

Max’s ratings have fallen, and NBC has cut his budget and half an hour off the show’s airtime. Furthermore, executives have instructed Max to “dumb down” his show for the general public. Max, subject to fits of rage and absurdly oblivious ramblings, is at constant war with the head honchos of the network.

The bulk of the plot revolves around the writers banding together to try to save the show and save Max in the process, as he quickly loses what little sanity he possessed to begin with. To add another log on the already blazing ire, the writers find that the past several shows have put them in the red – a loss that Max is responsible for. The ultimate drama comes when they realize that Max must let go of one writer from the group.

Jeff Stern opens the show as the naive but lovable character of Lucas. As the newcomer to the staff, he maintains a running commentary with the audience about the bizarre antics that he observes as he struggles to prove himself to the rest of the staff.

The older writers are a group of smart-ass, wise-cracking characters. Most notable of group are Milt (Brian Becker), a flashy, old philanderer whose jokes conceal a darker sire of his personality, and Carol (Allison Mazer), the show’s only female writer. Mazer puts on a wonderful Italian accent, and is one of the most plausibly portrayed and likeable characters in the bunch.

This motley crew of writers supplies its audience with clever banter, as insults are flung at one another in a constant game of one-upmanship. But while competing for a spot on staff, they form a sort of family in the process. In spite of tensions, drama and hostility between the writers, the audience ultimately sees the good in each character.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a show full of laughs but holds a bittersweet tinge that adds to the drama without diminishing from its effervescent festiveness.

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