Saturday, March 24, 2018


Max (Pat Towne), Val (Roland Rusinek), Milt (Ty Mayberry), Helen (Jessica Joy), Kenny (Cornelius Jones, Jr.), Lucas (Jason Grasl), Ira (Jeff Campanella), Carol (LaNisa Renee Frederick), and Brian (John Ross Bowie) in Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Garry Marshall Theatre. Photo by Chelsea Sutton.
Attending opening night at The Garry Marshall, brings together two groups.  The subscribers who are familiar faces and the friends of the cast.  As the audience settled, the lovely companion of a guy I see at the openings regularly, stopped momentarily as they crossed to their seats third row center. "Once you hear 'Neil Simon' all the rest fades away," she said.  Having a working knowledge of the playwright, it's hard to not agree.  The beauty of Neil Simon's plays is that through the slick and easily approachable characters we expect to simply be entertained

For those old enough to remember Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" with Imogene Coca and the amazing Howard Morris, long before SNL, the simplicity of the sketches, from the urbane to the bizarre, were pure and simple comedy. 

Simon was about twenty-six years of age in 1953. The United States was slipping into the maniacal  rants of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the cold war was upon us and Your Show of Shows was ninety minutes of mayhem that had television audiences enthrall.  Laughter On The 23rd Floor, written forty years later is Simon's recollection of his early experience through his doppleganger,  Lucas Brickman played by Jason Grasl,  the new kid in the Writers' Room. The show flies out of the gate warm and silly.

To quote another member of the audience, "Faster, Louder, Funnier is not necessarily better." Director Michael Shepperd employs schtick (a go-to for most of Ceasar's sketches) with frantic delivery of lines and over the top performances.  In the Writers' Room we meet the crazies.  The real life writers were Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Selma Diamond and others whose work has stood the test of time. 

As Brickman, Grasl presents a handsome Native American kid whose squeaky clean presence is charming. In the interests of 'diversity' it may have been a casting choice that flies in the face of the recollection of the playwright. Zany Ty Mayberry plays Milt rolling in, complete with costume changes and site gags. Natty Kenny Franks, (Cornelius Jones, Jr.) is the business oriented and practical member of the team. Brian (John Ross Bowie) has Hollywood aspirations. Completely berserk, Ira (ranting Jeff Campanella) is always late to the Writers Room.  As the head writer, Val, Roland Rusinek slips in and out of his Russian accent that is vital to some of the gags.

Max Prince (bombasitc Pat Towne) offers a cross between Jackie Gleason and elements of Caesar, himself, neurotic and  discumbuberated. Of course, we don't expect to see impersonations of the original fifties writers, thus, this diversity casting should be able to take the dialogue and with skill just have the characters say the words.  Director Shepperd's hand is well on display and not always to the best result. Schtick. 

Show stopper, the delightful Jessica Joy as Helen, finds her own way as the ditzy blonde secretary.  With all the frantic goings on, Ms Joy provides a breath of fresh air (to coin a phrase..) that moves from her perfectly pitched introduction in the opening tableau to revealing humor that mitigates the pace of the show now and then before the boys, and the lone woman writer, Carol (Lanisa Renee Frederick) step on the gas again. 

Ideally, all the 'work' of an evening with Neil Simon is on the stage. The job of the audience is to sit back and allow the laughter to just roll along. With the Marshall Theatre policy of encouraging crunchy snacks to be brought into the theater, I wonder if the actors can see and hear the munching?  I could.

Theatre etiquette is changing. Evidently, to some, it's like going to the movies, loading up with a bag of popcorn and a Coke instead of coming to appreciate a live performance where the subtlety and nuance of the play requires respect not only for the actors, but fellow audience members, as well.  Though this show is not in the least bit subtle, abandoning disbelief is still the rule of the day and when respect for the performance is ignored, well.. it's just not nice.

by Neil Simon
The Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W Riverside Dr.
Burbank, CA 91505
March 23 – April 22, 2018
Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm
Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Added show Sunday April 8 at 7pm
No Show Sunday, April 1
Tickets and information:
818 955 8101

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