Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Laughter on The 23rd Floor"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2001 by Tony Annicone

"Laughter on The 23rd Floor"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Take a topnotch, Neil Simon script, cast one of the best character actor's around in the leading role, surround him with a tight ensemble cast and you have "Laughter on the 23rd Floor", The Players second show of their 93rd season. Simon's show takes place in 1953, when he was a script writer for Sid Caeser on Your Show of Shows. This riotous comedy is about the hilarious antics of all the writers during the rise and fall of this TV show. It leads the audience into much laughter and in typical Simon fashion, a touching finale, which brings the cast a standing ovation.

The Sid Caesar character in the show is called Max Prince. He is played expertly by Tom Gleadow. This man is a master of comic gestures, facial expressions and superb line delivery. He becomes a Nathan Lane powerhouse in the show and his energy never wavers at all. Tom also does a right on the money, Marlon Brando impersonation in one of the skits about the "Julius Caesar" movie. He also excells at the physical comedy of the role, wrestling one of the writers, picking up and throwing another and punching holes in the walls. Tom gives a tour de force performance and makes this one of the must see shows of the season. His idols and comic mentors are Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and he does them proud.

The Mel Brooks role is called Ira in the show. Tom DiMaggio not only plays this part but he directs this fantastic show, too. He infuses ti with the madcap energy necessary to pull it off. Ira is the hypochondriac writer who supposedly suffers a heart attack, a stroke and a brain tumor. Some of his funniest bits are when he writes, I have a brain tumor on the office wall and when Max fires him, Ira rips his joke out of the script and tries to swallow it. Tom does a great job on his double duty in this show, making it look easier than it really is.

Young actor Gerard Marzilli plays Lucas, the Neil Simon role. He narrates the show, introducing the other characters. Gerard converses with the audience and the other actors convincingly, showing his strength as a young actor. He has a bright future in front of him and this is one of the many roles to add to his resume. The two scene stealers of the night are Walter Cotter as Milt and Barrie Atkinson as Val. Walter makes Milt, a whirlwind funnyman. He cracks jokes with ease, adding to the great level of merriment. Walter's flamboyent charcter has the best one liners in the show and he makes them all count. Barrie as Val uses a Russian accent in the part. Originally from London, he is a master of linguistics, making the swearing and all his lines, hilarious. This is Barrie's last show at Players before moving to Canada and he makes his final performance, a triumph.

The lone female writer, Carol is played by Michele Bourget. She makes her one of the guys, eating bagels and using the f word profusely. Michele does a great job in the role with her pregency scene and her learning how to say and later missing saying the f word, stand outs. ( Her standing and sitting while pregnant are not to be missed.) The boy wonder writer, Kenny (Jordan Cannady) and the lone Irish, writer, Brian (Bill Dunn) each have their funny moments, too. They include Jordan's reading of the TV skit lines and his digust with Ira's ailments and Bill's constant smoking and coughing as well as the shoe betting with Ira. (The shoes end up out the window on 57th St) Last but not least is the harried secretary, Helen played by Monique Shaghalian. She finally gets to show her comic touch in the attempted seduction by Milt at the Christmas party where she expresses her wish to be a writer. Great work by all the ensemble.

So take a look back at the 1950's, listen to vintage commercials of the era and watch the commentary about Joe McCarthy's jerky behavior and NBC's dumbing down the material in a TV show because the audience isn't bright enough to understand it. The latter one is still relevant today but the big wigs still don't understand audiences are intelligent enough to get it. To join in the rest of The Players 93rd season call Lydia at 401-273-0590 or e-mail her at ThePlayers1909@ Tell her Tony sent you.

"Laughter on The 23rd Floor" (till 9 December)
Barker Playhouse 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
1(401) 273-0590

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide