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'Laughter' has poignant, political points
Next Act explores talent behind ‘50s TV comedy


By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

November 27, 2019


Next Act Theatre’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a loose representation of the ‘50s hit TV comedy “Your Show of Shows” that featured Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca with a talented collection of writers.
Submitted photo

MILWAUKEE - Picture a room with seven comic writers trying to collaborate in putting together a 90-minute TV show. In this case, the “Show of Shows,” featuring Sid Caesar.  “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is a Neil Simon reflection on what it was like working with a potpourri of humorous talents at the beginning of his career as a fledging writer.

Picture also, trying to accommodate the eccentric, frazzled celebrity known as Sid, as well as the network that sponsored him. In the 1950s, TV was trying to find its place in the world of media. They were competing with radio and films.

Historically, during this era, America was in the throes of the Cold War, the Communist scare and the antics of Joseph McCarthy in his witch hunt to find the “bad guys.” Many accomplished Americans, many of them Jewish, had their reputations smeared and were blacklisted, until Congress eventually put an end to his crusade.

After Sid’s two successive and successful shows were discontinued, all of the writers featured here went on to write for many other programs such as “Mash,” “All in the Family” and “The Love Boat” as well as films such as “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers.” So there is no doubt that comic talent characterized this gathering of young writers, which, for a time included Woody Allen also.

David Cecsarini, an actor with a wide swath of capabilities, filled the role of Sid Caesar, with perfection. He captured the essence of this erratic, histrionic and challenging-to-work-for man. It was obvious to his staff that he enjoyed wide audience appeal, as well as provided them a valuable stepping stone into their own successful careers in the world of comedy after his shows were cancelled. In addition he was basically a decent and generous man.

The other standouts in the cast included Zach Thomas Woods, who played Lucas, who is based on Neil Simon, and narrated the play; Adam Qutaishat who played the difficult Ira Stone (Mel Brooks); Mohammad N. ELBsat, (Mel Tolkin), the immigrant who was trying to be accepted; and Karen Estrada as Carol (who represented Lucille Kallen and Selma Diamond, two female writers on the staff.) Lindsay Webster as the harassed secretary Helen definitely added sparkle and humor to her role at the Christmas party. Kenny, well-played by Seth K. Hale, possibly represented Carl Reiner.

Next Act performed this same play in its previous space on St. Paul about 20 years ago. I enjoyed this production even more, possibly due to Cecsarini’s performance. He was the star of “The Show of Shows” and this re-visiting of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Directed by Edward Morgan with a fitting set design by the ubiquitous Rick Rasmussen, this production was obviously enjoyed by the audience, a near-full house.
 

GLANCE

“Laughter on the 23rd Floor”

The comedy runs through Dec. 15 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St. , Milwaukee . Call 414-278-0765 or visit www.nextact.org.