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January 13, 1995 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-01-13

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'Laughter'is the best medicine
No matter what the critics say, Simon's play is funny


On November22,1993, Neil Simon
delivered his latest play to eager Broad-
way audiences. Hungry for new plays
and craving Simon's fulfilling comic
artistry, Broadway licked its lips and
raised its fork, ready for the feast called
Laughter on
the 23rd Floor
Fisher Theatre
January 11, 1995
"Laughter on the 23rd Floor." They dug
in ravenously.
And when the meal was finished,
the critics ran for the bathrooms, while
the audiences made room for seconds
and thirds. Even when the Tony Award
nominating committee shunned it, au-
diences came in droves to the Richard
Rodgers Theatre for a fix of high-pow-
ered hilarity which only Simon could
Now, over one year later, "Laugh-
ter" embarks on a national tour. Judging
from last night's kickoff at Detroit's
Fisher Theatre (where it stays through
Jan. 29), "Laughter" is sure to have a

long, healthy and positively riotous trip
across the country.
Simon's latest is deliciously irrev-
erent, slyly affectionate and
debilitatingly funny. Set in the writers'
office of "The Max Prince Show" -
sort of the "Saturday Night Live" of its
day, except well-written and intelligent
"Laughter" recalls Simon'sown days
as a writer for the infamous Sid Caesar
show. Through the character of Lucas
(Matthew Arkin), a stand-in for the
playwright, we are introduced to the
eccentric, maniacal and extremely gifted
group of writers behind comic legend
Max Prince (Howard Hesseman).
This is 1953, during the prime of
McCarthyism and the golden age of
television. NBC wants to cut the show
down to one hour, trim the sets, cos-
tumes and staff. Prince must fight for
his show and his writers, but we're
talking about a man who pops two
softball-sized tranquilizers every night,
washes them down with four jiggers of
scotch, and sleeps with a loaded shot-
What critics didn't like about
"Laughter" is what audiences loved.
Simon has sacrificed some of his char-
acteristic substance for a snappy style,
and it works. As opposed to in his
earlier "Brighton Beach Memoirs" or

even "The Odd Couple," Simon has not
drawn complex characters; the charac-
ters here are only caricatures. We have
just enough detail to care about each
one, and that allows us to sit back and
enjoy over two hours of pure comic
Simon's no-holds-barred wit hits
from all sides. One-liners, sight gags
and double-takes abound, and jokes are
followed by arimshot. ("I just heard the
news in my car - did you hear it?" "I
wasn't in your car." Ba-dum-bum.) All
of this is overseen and flawlessly or-
chestratedby directorJerryZaks (1992's
"Guys and Dolls" revival), whose
strength is high-tempo comedy.
The cast runs like a well-oiled ma-
chine. They deserve credit not only for
spitting out brilliant line after brilliant
line with perfect timing, but also for
infusing their delivery and character-
ization with charm and flair. Especially
commendable are Michael Country-
man as Val, the Russian head writer,
and Lewis J. Stadlen as the ever-so-
eccentric Milt (a role he originated).
At the helm is Howard Hesseman,
no doubt most fondly remembered in
his television roles on "WKRP in Cin-
cinnati" and "Head of the Class." While
this bit of casting may seem far-fetched,
consider this: who better to play boob-

After all these years, Johnny Fever finally has taken over WKRP. Or Howard Hesseman's finally gotten another role.

tube funny man Max Prince than a
famous television actor? Hesseman -
who spends the first act parading around
in a trench coat, shirt and tie, boxers,
dress shoes and sock garters, all the
while chomping on a cigar - fits right
into the lightening pace of this produc-
tion. With his passionate combination
of age, cynicism, disorientation and

zest, he is a triumph.
Thanks to Zaks, Hesseman and this
gifted cast, this "Laughter" packs a
knock-out comic punch. Fasten your
seatbelts, Detroit; you're in for a fast
and furious - and certainly laugh-
packed - ride.
FLOOR runs through Jan. 29 at the

Fisher Theatre in Detroit.
Performances are Tuesdays through
Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 &
8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 & 7:30
p.m. Tickets range from $20 to
$37.50, and are available at all
TicketMaster outlets. Call (810)
645-6666 for tickets, or (313) 872-
1000 for information.


New 'Little Women'is rich in acting and emotion

There are certain stories and im-
ages so connected to childhood that
they might as well have been apart of
it. "Little Women" and its tale of four
sisters. Winona Ryder and her string
of angst-ridden adolescents: the pre-
cocious 12-year-old in "Lucas," the
gangly 14-year-old in "Square
-Dance," the spooky 16-year-old in
"Beetlej uice" and the 17-year-old pre-
frat killer in "Heathers;" a bevy of

unusual yet achingly familiar charac-
ters. How befitting then, that these
childhood heroes be drawn together
into one such splendid film.
Based on Louisa May Alcott's
novel, this fourth film version of the
sisters March has all of the delicate
precision and excellence of its prede-
cessors, yet none of the primness or
precarious hints of feminism. "I want
my girls to have a better world," says
their mother, Marmee (a dour Susan

Sarandon) in this slightly updated
version, and there is no doubt as to
what she means. This is a modern-day
woman's film, even if it does take
place in the 19th Century.
Meg (Trini Alvarado), Jo (Winona
Ryder), Beth (Claire Danes) and Amy
(Kirsten Dunst and later Samantha
Mathis) are the March sisters. Meg's
the beauty, Jo's the rebel, Beth's the
saint and Amy's the devil. While they
search to find meaning within their
lives, we, as viewers, watch and expe-
rience vicariously. The young women
are so engaging and earnest that it is
impossible not to be drawn into their
intricate world.
Jo is best friends with a lonely rich
boy, Laurie ("Swing Kid" Christian
Bale) whom she adores but doesn't
love. His wealth and his kindness
offer her an easy life, replete with all
themonitory joys the March's humble
abode has denied her. Yet, she wants
more and refuses to settle for what's

The University of Michigan Museum of Art presents

Joseph Be
Saturday, January 14

9:30 am-12 pm
Angell Hall,
Auditorium B
Admission free

*Michael Udow
and the Percussion
of the University
of Michigan
School of Music
Museum of Art
For free tickets,
call 313.747.0521

5:15-6 pin
Reception for
Joseph Beuys:
Objects, and
Prints on
exhibition until
March 5, 1995
Museum of Art
Admission free

easy. Her early feminist approach to
life - a thinly veiled reflection of
Alcott's own - has inspired young
Little Women
Directed by
Gillian Armstrong
with Winona Ryder
and Claire Danes
women for decades, throwing Jo into
the role of quirky, yet lovable hero.
Yet in this version, the heroism lies in
the strength of the ensemble produc-
Director Gillian Armstrong ("My
Brilliant Career") has assembled (with
the exception of Samantha Mathis) a
remarkably gifted group of young
actors. Ryder, an actor who seems
incapable of giving a shallow perfor-
mance, is, exceptionally well-suited
for a role that initially appeared to be
miscast. Dunst ("Interview With The
Vampire") is wickedly delightful as
the bratty Amy. Although Samantha
Mathis, the poor man's Winona Ryder,
turns the older Amy into a maudlin
sap, she's still enticing. If Jo is whom
we admire, Amy is our secret fantasy;
she always gets what she wants.
Yet, best of all is the extraordinary
Claire Danes. Danes (of ABC' s vastly
under-appreciated "My So-Called
Life") takes the least interesting role
of Beth, the dying saint, and manages
to steal almost every scene that she's
in. Her interactions with Ryder are
the film's highlights.
If "Women" tends to revel a bit
much in the gorgeous scenery and
actors, let it be so. There is very little
here that isn't worth your indulgence.
And don't be scared off by the
"Women's Film" label. Eric Stoltz,
who plays Meg's love interest, may
have joked that he's the movie's "to-
ken penis," but that doesn't mean the
film is meaningless for men. Grow-
ing up is non-exclusive. Going back,
after having been removed from its
clutches, is a joy.

I' I
January 11-13 at 8 pm
Saturday January 14
lydio Mendelssahn Theatre
for tickets and information
rnil 14141071-A ACT

Scrawl may be indie-rock gods, yet they still enjoy a quiet evening at home.
Scrawl's 'Velvet' crunch

If one image were to spring into the
mind while hearing Scrawl's hypnotic
harmonies and seductive dirges, that
vision would most likely not be travers-
ing through rainy Belgian nowhere-
towns to a open-field festival and listen-
ing to six hardcore punk bands.
Of course, Scrawl, a powerfully
evocative trio from Columbus, Ohio,
had to deal with that same image
while on their European tour last fall.
"Everyone has festivals in Europe,"
explained Scrawl's bassist / vocalist
Sue Harshe. "You would go to this
teeny town in Germany and, in the
middle of nowhere would be this festi-
val - some with really wild billings.
We played this festival in Belgium with
us and six hardcore bands. They were
all male, and the average age was 16-
people who could have biologically
been ourchildren. It was really horrible.
We had nothing in common. That's not
the show to covet."
However, if you think that a bad
experience in some exotic country is
Scrawl's only tie to hardcore music,

you would be mistaken. Harshe and
guitarist / vocalist Marcy Mays both
played in hardcore punk bands in the
early to mid '80s. A bizarre common
background considering Scrawl's
emotive, lush sound and introspec-
tive lyrics that center primarily upon
relationships turned sour.
"Marcy and I are both from the
hardcore swamp," said Harshe, who
founded the group with Mays in 1985.
"People will ask 'What do you sound
like,' and I want to say punk rock -
we're not - but we have that punk
rock sensibility about us."
Scrawl's latest, 1993's "Velvet
Hammer," subtly sinks into your flesh
with its sparsely beautiful guitar ar-
rangements and the band's highly
praised harmonies between Harshe
and Mays - a sound that is difficult
to describe and must be heard live to
be completely appreciated.
"I think that we come across much
more interestingly live," Harshe said.
"That just might be something intrin-
sic to recording though. Marcy was
See SCRAWL, Page 9

Corner of South State and South University in Ann Arbor. For more information phone 313.764.0395. This
exhibition has been organised by the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Stuttgart, and is sponsored by the
Goethe-Institut Ann Arbor. The opening reception and symposium are sponsored in part by Dr. Marianne Wannow,
Consul General, and the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany. Thanks to the School of Music for
their assistance with the concert.

I -


s(o sof C

LWFLE WOMEN is playing at Ann
Arbor 1 & 2 and Showcase.


f' InnlI T Th.TA 'T'D Q~


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