So seven guys and a gal walk into a dumpy office in Manhattan, dip into the coffee, bagels and danish, and start crackin’ wise. And they’re funny. Really funny. For a living. They write sketches for a hit 1950s TV show starring someone much like Sid Caesar, but who’s called Max Prince in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
Our guide through the chaos is Lucas (John Loughney), presumably based on the young playwright, a wannabe writer hired by Prince (Ray Ficca) on a trial basis.
We meet the other writers as they amble, saunter or shlump into work, with Lucas offering the audience character notes on each of them. Milt (Matt Dewberry), a doughy kibbitzer, shows up in a beret, hoping the boss will notice him. Val (Bradley Foster Smith), a brainy Russian emigre, seemingly dons a dour expression. Brian (Dan Van Why), an Irish American in this hothouse of Jewish jokesters, yearns to sell a screenplay and move to Hollywood. Kenny (Kevin Hasser), a dapper voice of reason, tries to prevent group panic.
Carol (Brianna Letourneau) holds her own as the lone woman, whom the guys respect, even if they’re loath to give her credit.”
Ficca has a fine time as the tortured, obsessive Max, his gangly frame cramped with anxiety. Smith’s Russian expat Val is also a sourball treat, whether pondering news of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s death or honing his pronunciation of an all-American obscenity. Dewberry, as the clotheshorse Milt, has comic timing and inklings of insecurity to spare.
A quintessentially seedy work room for Max and his writers has been created by set designer Samina Vieth — black-and-white linoleum floor, beige walls, a couple of battered desks, random chairs, a side table laden with noshables and a coffee urn; a window onto the Manhattan skyline; doors at each end of the room allowing for farcical arrivals and departures.
All this is lit with fluorescent brightness by Allan Weeks. Erin Nugent has clothed the cast — including the female characters — in apparel that seems in-period and rumpled as per the generally unfashionable characters wearing the outfits.