Laughter on the 23rd Floor at Park Square dissects the funny business

Petronella Ytsma

Usually, the last thing you want to see in a play is characters acknowledging how funny they are. Yet when it happens in Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, it feels perfectly normal. Simon has written a play about a gang of naturally funny people who were paid to be as humorous as possible. As one of the more autobiographical plays Simon has written in the later years of his career, Laughter follows the writers of a Your Show of Shows-like program in the early 1950s. With analogues to Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and, of course, Sid Caesar running around, there's plenty of opportunity for caustic one-liners. Not much of actual import happens during the play — there are cuts from the network, warnings of cancellation, and the looming threat of McCarthy and the blacklist — but it conveys a real sense of the high wire the show walked every week and the rough camaraderie among the men (and one woman) in the writing room. Zach Curtis works with many of the same actors from prior productions of the play, and that familiarity is felt throughout the production, as the relationships, both good and bad, feel absolutely natural. Two towering presences dominate the script, and the respective actors fully inhabit them. First is Ari Hoptman as Ira, an extremely funny and extremely difficult-to-work-with writer (based on Mel Brooks), which is topped by Michael Paul Levin's absolutely mad performance of the oft-addled and more than a bit paranoid star of the show, Max Prince.

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