‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ opens in January at White Theatre
The Jewish Community Center presents the Neil Simon comedy “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” beginning Saturday, Jan. 5, in the White Theatre. Performances are Jan. 5, 10 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 6 and 13 at 2 p.m.
This production features the talents of seven local actors under the direction of Mark Swezey.
Krista Blackwood, the JCC’s director of cultural arts, said Simon got his first big break back in the early 1950s as a staff writer on Sid Caesar’s fabled television series, “Your Show of Shows.” “Laughter” is a fictionalized look at the backstage chaos that went into producing that show, one of the landmarks of television’s golden age.
The story surrounds the fictitious Max Prince, star of his own popular comedy-variety series. The show is a hit on the East Coast, but network executives insist that it’s too sophisticated for the Midwest. Prince is pushed to dumb down the show, and comedy ensues as he struggles to meet the demands of too many masters.
Prince uses his writing team as a line of defense, hurling humorous invectives at each other and anyone else within earshot while writing the show.
Blackwood said the show was created in historical context.
“It’s 1953, only eight years after the slaughter of World War II and right in the middle of the witch hunt that was Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare. The politics of the time presented both context and challenge to the writers, Simon’s surrogates for the ‘Your Show of Shows’ writing team; Lucas (Simon), Ira (Mel Brooks), Kenny (Larry Gelbart), Val (Mel Tolkin), Carol (Selma Diamond), Milt (Carl Reiner), and Brian (Michael Stewart),” Blackwood said.
“Meanwhile, the Sid Caesar-inspired Max Prince tries to stall network honchos who want to trim his budget, shorten his running time, and change his style of humor, deemed too urban and Jewish for suburban America. Angst burbles between the laughs, but the closest thing to a true joke about Senator McCarthy is Milt’s description of him as ‘a United States senator who giggles like Porky the Pig,’ ” she said.
The JCC is offering two special learning opportunities in connection with “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” through its Jewish Life and Learning programs. Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, a storyteller, community activist and stand-up comedian, will present an overview of Jewish humor following the Sunday, Jan. 6, matinee (about 4 p.m.).
On Monday, Jan. 7, the rabbi will give a free noon-hour presentation in the Multi-Activity Room at the Jewish Campus; his talk is entitled, “Discovery the Divine Within Us: Redefining Prayer.”
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations. Tickets for this production are $14 for members, $20 for (general public) and $10 for students (college and under). Tickets may be purchased by contacting the box office, open from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday at 913-327-8054; or you may purchase tickets online by visiting the JCC web site at www.jcckc.org/boxoffice.