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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ hilarious at The Barn Theatre in Montville

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Do you love the tv series "The Office" with the fun interaction between the coworkers?  Well, their office repartee is bush league compared to the goings-on in Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical "Laughter on the 23rd Floor."  If you have  opened your windows this past weekend to enjoy the cooler weather and live within 30 miles of the Barn Theatre in Montville, you may have heard the raucous laughter emanating from the theatre. "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is loosely based Neil Simon's time as a young writer on  Sid Caesar's 1950's "The Show of Shows" The 90 minute live comedy show aired on NBC Saturday nights...many moons before the birth of "Saturday Night Live." Several writers, disguised slightly in the play, went on to be major contributors to television and film comedy for the next 40 years. The legends include Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein, etc., Larry Gelbart (MASH),and Carl Reiner (Dick Van Dyke Show, etc.). 

The plot maybe a bit thin since the focus is almost totally on the antics of the staff writers trying to put-out a weekly TV variety show. Max Prince (Jonathan Rudolph) is the star of The Max Prince Show, a popular comedy-variety series with ratings that have begun to slip; Prince's show is still a major hit on the East Coast, but the network insists that it's too sophisticated for the Midwest, and urges Prince to "dumb down his act." He begins to unravel as the stress of producing a weekly show and dealing with negative contributions from NBC take its toll. He is further stressed by his opposition to Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthy's Un-American campaign targeting writers and performers suspected of being card carrying communists with the result he turns to punching holes in the office walls in a major fit of anger.  Observing this meltdown has the staff writers in various panic modes as the possibility of  the series ending becomes more likely.

"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is directed by Craig S. Zimmermann. This is his directing debut at The Barn. Zimmermann delivers big time with a marvelous production that wins on many counts...great impressive, set, lighting, sound , smart costumes AND a spot-on perfect cast, This may be community theater where all talent are volunteers and perform for the sheer pleasure, but the level of this performance is certainly close, if not, on a par, with professionals.

Laughter23rdFloor-01webThe fine cast includes  Rudy Basso (Lucas Brickman), Vanessa Bellardini (Helen, Max' secretary), Frank Blaeuer (Kenny Franks), Eric Heiberg (Milt Fields), Chip Prestera (Ira Stone), Jonathan Rudolph (Max Prince), Sam Salter (Brian Doyle), Les Stolarz (Val Skolsky), and Elissa Strell Kachtan (Carol Wyman). Each cast member makes terrific contributions to the laughter (heard, of course, on the 23rd Floor!). 

Rudy Basso, in particular, is a stand-out as the narrator/novice writer, Lucas Brickman a/k/a Neil Simon, Jonathan Rudolph displays major comedy talent as he convincingly presents Max with all his eccentricities. Playing the hypochondriac Ira Stone, a/k/a Mel Brooks, is one of the top comedy actors in the region, Chip Prestera. Long a favorite at both the Chatham and Summit Playhouse Presteria is making a stand-out Barn debut. 

The remaining performances of  "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" are September  19, 20, 26, 27, October 3 and 4 at 8pm; and on September   21, and 28 at 2pm. Tickets are $18 (senior/student tickets are $16 on matinees only).

The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For more reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at www.barntheatre.org

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio

Photo: (Left to Right): Chip Prestera (of Stirling, NJ), Vanessa Bellardini (of Montclair NJ), Frank Blaeuer (of Hewitt NJ), Jonathan Rudolph (of Parsippany NJ), Rudy Basso (of Garfield NJ), Les Stolarz (of Boonton NJ), Sam Salter (of West Milford NJ), and Elissa Strell (of Bedminster NJ)  [Photo by Tom Schopper]

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