Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic
Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Playwright Neil Simon was the ‘Comedy King of Broadway’, and as a matter of fact, everywhere else on the planet. Name me a playwright that can boast thirty-three smash hits on Broadway in a career, with 3 hits running at the same time? I didn’t think you could because he’s the only American playwright to turn the trick.

Simon wrote mostly comedies. However, he did try a dramedy once. His “Gingerbread Lady” was his only foray into serious and sensitive subject matter. But his fans and audiences wanted to see and enjoy the Simon of old. And he got the message. It was back to Simon-styled comedy.

b9a2076e2fe2da9cdce9ce3e2a1a0866“Doc” (his nickname) is still with us scribbling in his notebook but many of his loyal fans have left the planet. The replacement audiences of today alas, march to the beat of different drummers.   If you’re a lover of well written comedy plays then you’re in luck. Vintage Neil Simon comedy is alive and well on the stage of the Joslyn Center presented by Desert Theatreworks.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor”, nicely directed by Lance Phillip-Martinez, is Simon’s hilarious tribute to the manic comedy style of the great Marx Brothers, and to the nuttiness of ‘You’re Show of Shows’ (a staple of ‘50’s television) with Sid Caesar and his cast of wacky characters and situations.

“Laughter” features an energetic and talented cast of nine actors who relish the frenetic pace, silliness, and onstage antics under the watchful eye of director Phillips-Martinez. Arnie Kleban stars as Max Prince (think a harried Sid Caesar in his heyday), as producer and star of NBC’s top television show. Prince, is constantly at loggerheads with top NBC brass over his budgets. They want to trim them, he wants to keep them the same. He wants to keep the writing team intact. Besides, the status quo is comfortable. How the writers and Max accomplish this miracle is the meat and fun of this roman a clef- based production on Simon’s own career as a writer during the golden age of TV comedy shows.

Kleban’s nuanced and hassled comedy star turn as Max, is ably supported by: Mason McIntosh, who plays the narrator and writer Lucas Brickman (Simon’s alter-ego); Ed Lefkowitz as Milt Fields; Jason Lewis as the Russian émigré writer Val Slotzky; Tanner Lieser as Kenny Franks; Tiffani Lobue as Carol Wyman the only female writer on the staff, brings her special brand of comic goofiness when she finds out she’s pregnant; Stephen McMillen as Brian Doyle, the token gentile from Ireland, never stops teasing and poking fun at his fellow writers; Mike Olton as sad-sack hypochondriac Ira Stone, delivers a little gem of a comedy performance. Stephee Bonifacio as Helen the office secretary rounds out this stellar ensemble cast.

The comedy production is not only directed by Phillips-Martinez, he’s also the Lighting and Sound designer. Ron Phillips-Martinez is responsible for the clever set and space giving the actors full range to display their talent.

The costumes designed by Michele Dobson, Props by Priscilla Lawson, and comedy coaching by Peter Nicholson along with Light board operator Kay Kudukis, and Sound board operator Angus Feath, complete the technical team.

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” performs at the Joslyn Center in the Arthur Newman Theatre, in Palm Desert, and runs through February 7, 2016. For reservations and ticket information, call 760-980-1455.