If laughter truly is the best medicine, then Mayo Clinic should be sending all patients to Rochester Civic Theatre between now and June 1.
There, they’ll find the best medicine in the form of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” a giggle fest of a play that is good for whatever ails you.
This Neil Simon comedy is based on the playwright’s time as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” in the 1950s. If the truth was anything like what Simon has written, the 23rd floor, where the comedy writers had their office, was one crazy place.
The bin of lunatics is presided over by Max Prince, the star of a TV show struggling against network bean counters, sagging ratings and the changing tastes of viewers. It’s a losing battle, but Max’s comedy commandos are not about to go down without a fight.
Max is played by Greg Miller who, with this role, makes us regret his day job as artistic director at RCT prevents him from appearing more frequently on stage. Not only is Miller hilarious, but by combining comedy styles borrowed from Jackie Gleason (the bumbling anger and violence), Bob Newhart (the perfectly timed delay) and others, he pays tribute to the heroes of TV comedy. He brings the house down as Max impersonating Marlon Brando during a skit rehearsal.
James Preiss has a good role as Milt, the writer who delivers jokes in rat-a-tat fashion. Sean Lundberg is back on the RCT stage, this time as the Russian head writer Val, whose mastery of four-letter words was apparently left behind in the old country. Brian Bennett is Brian, the writer who always has something cooking with Hollywood. Mallory McKay is Carol, the only female writer on the staff. Angus Russell is Kenny, the most “normal” of the writing staff, while Scott Stekel plays the hypochondriacal Ira. Lindsay Beach is Max’s secretary Helen.
All of this is told to us through the experiences of Lucas, played by Alan Wiltgen, the newest writer on the staff. Like us, he is initially flabbergasted by the antics of his colleagues. Soon, though, he’s giving as good as he gets.
The language in this show is not appropriate for younger viewers. Other than that, no matter what your complaint, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” will make it magically disappear for at least a couple of hours.