Setting fire to the desk, throwing clothes out of the window and punching holes in the wall is just another day in the life of a writer; at least in many a writer’s head. Who hasn’t fantasised about throwing their computer out of the window? This probably would have happened too during “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” had computers been around in 1953.
Set during a time where writers and actors were black-listed by Senator Joseph McCarthy for being communists, Max Prince and his staff of writers fight, undermine, out-wit, compete and confide while appearing to do little actual writing. As the issue of the anti-communist witch hunts creep in (ultimately leading to censorship laws) as does the level of paranoia in the writer’s room. This outrageous process is quite literally laugh a minute (both on and off stage) and somehow this volatile environment produces the hit comedy “The Max Prince Show.”
Superbly written by Oscar and Tony Award nominated writer Neil Simon, Laughter on the 23rd Floor is based on his time as a comedy writer for “Your Show of Shows” hosted by legendary TV comedian Sid Caesar. Larger than life Max is played by Peter Rowsthorn (perfectly cast as Kim’s husband Brett in the long running TV show Kath & Kim) who steals the show with his camp version of Caesar; hail Caesar indeed! I got a kick out of his “Streetcar Named Desire” reference with his rendition of “Stella!” which played earlier this year on the same stage with Jo Morris who plays the token woman writer Carol Wyman. Dapper Lucas Brickman narrates and loosely based on Neil Simon himself, is played by James Sweeny. It soon becomes clear it’s a case of the spot the legend and the entire cast is a well-oiled comedy machine and even though they tear shreds off each other on stage the camaraderie is palpable. I can just imagine the fun they had rehearsing.
Set on the 23rd floor of New York’s Rockefeller Plaza in 1953, the scene is distinctly classy Manhattan and set and costume designer Lauren Ross nailed the era where men dressed with a commanding masculine style and the women as pin-ups. Except there are no Don Draper’s or Stepford wives in this “Mad Men” setting, although there is oodles of madness. I half expected a Woody Allen cameo, now that would have been the icing on the top of the Rockefeller Plaza.
Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a Black Swan Theatre production and plays at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia 6-21 September 2014.