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November 01, 2012 - Image 75

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-11-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

"Mtich -heralded Star Deli slow-cooks
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Lots Of Laughter

Neil Simon comedy shines at JET.

Ronelle Grier

Contributing Writer

I

magine spending every workday
writing comedy sketches for the
top-rated show on television, work-
ing with the likes of Mel Brooks and
Carl Reiner, among others — and earn-
ing a hefty salary in the process.
This describes playwright Neil
Simon's job as a fledging staff writer
for Sid Caesar's hit program Your Show
of Shows, a live variety show that ran on
NBC from 1950-1954. The experience
launched Simon's long and successful
career and provided the basis for his
1993 play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
Playing at Jewish Ensemble Theatre
through Nov. 11, Laughter, directed'
by Lynnae Lehfeldt, gives audiences a
behind-the-scenes look at the ground-
breaking show that con-
tinues to influence the
entertainment industry
more than half a century
later.
Writers are advised to write what they
know, and Simon knows comedy; he has
a firsthand understanding of the creative
minds behind the laughs. The characters
in Laughter on the 23rd Floor are not just
Simon's creations; they are his "peeps:'
inspired by the original comedic "dream
team" who wrote Your Show of Shows, a
group that also included Larry Gelbart
of M*A*S*H fame and Selma Diamond,
who later inspired the crusty character
of writer Sally Rogers (played by Rose
Marie) on the Dick Van Dyke Show.
At the center of the group is the show's
star, Max Prince, Simon's version of
Sid Caesar superbly played by Joseph
Albright, who reveals the complex,
off-camera side of the man behind the
laughs.
The other writers are played by an out-
standing group of actors: Andrew Huff as
Brian, an Irishman who longs to make it
big in Hollywood; David Meese as Milt,
whose smile hides any serious feelings
that might interfere with his work; Ron
Williams as Kenny, the practical mem-
ber of the group; Rob Pantano as Ira, a
hypochondriac whose litany of ailments
provides a steady supply of comic fod-
der; Wayne David Parker as head writer
Val, a hot-headed Russian immigrant;
Allie McCaw as Carol, who wants to be

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Rehearsing for Laughter

recognized for her talent instead of her
gender; and Matthew Turner Shelton as
Lucas, the newest member of the staff
and Simon's alter ego.
Julia Gray gives an excellent perfor-
mance as Helen, the overworked sec-
retary whose duties include everything
from recording script sessions to retriev-
ing shoes tossed from the window by
two of the writers during one of their
perpetual arguments.
One reason Laughter works
so well is that each character
maintains a distinctive persona
without overpowering the other
actors. As with any great ensemble cast,
the whole exceeds the sum of the indi-
vidual parts. While each actor delivers a
powerhouse performance, together they
are unstoppable.
Simon keeps the laughs coming with-
out ignoring the more serious issues of
the era. He depicts the ongoing struggle
between quality and ratings during a
scene where Prince expresses his frustra-
tion with the NBC executives.
The play also touches on a threat even
more terrifying than ratings: Sen. Joseph
McCarthy and his notorious blacklist,
which included many of the era's finest
creative minds. Through the words and
actions of his characters, Simon makes
no secret of his feelings about McCarthy.
Scenic Designer Jeremy Barnett's set, a
conference-style room where the writers
gather, provides the ideal backdrop for
this colorful group. Mary Copenhagen's
costumes gave each character a distinc-
tive look, especially Milt, who expresses
his dramatic flair through his eccentric
clothes. Lighting design is by Jon Weaver,
props by Diane Ulseth and sound design
by Hank Bennett.
The play is dedicated to the late Allen
S. Rosenfeld, a regular Your Show of
Shows viewer, whose daughter Jennifer
Rosenfeld Bass serves as the play's dra-
maturg.

REVIEW



JET's production of Laughter on the 23rd Floor runs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays,
5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through Nov.11 (there
also will be a 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, matinee) at the Aaron DeRoy
Theatre in the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. Info and tick-
ets: (248) 788-2900; www.jetttheatre.org .

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November 1 . 2012

67

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