An extended act of hero worship masquerading as a laff riot, Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Flooris filled with one-liners, peopled entirely by folks who either write or want to write jokes, and fairly accurately reflects the three years when many of the gods of 20th century comedy—including Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Larry Gelbart—regularly assembled in one room to help make Sid Caesar the funniest man on television.
The evening looks, moves, and spouts punchlines like an ensemble piece as it peers into the writer’s room of a 90-minute program much like Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. But minions—even when they’re gods in training—remain minions, and Simon’s play is ruled firmly by its Caesar, here rechristened Max Prince (Ray Ficca), who rides herd over his writing stable with ferocity, flop sweat, and on occasion, pants ’round his ankles. As a comic creation, he’s significantly more intriguing than the play that surrounds him, partly because the plot turns on such uninvolving questions as whether the network will cut the show’s budget, and partly because Simon’s too caught up in admiration to parse what makes the guy tick.
…Prince is great fun to watch, and for Keegan Theatre’s production, Ficca’s elected to play him at a slightly different rhythm than his cohorts.”
In real life, several of them managed to eclipse their mentor in terms of popularity—Simon on Broadway, Brooks and Allen in film, and Gelbart on TV—but ask any of them who the real genius was, and—as Simon does in Laughter on the 23rd Floor, they’d all hail Caesar.