Let's Review: Neil Simon writes what he knows and he knows comedy writers

The North Coast Repertory Theater in Solana Beach has graced its stage with many hilarious comedies. Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” directed by Tom Markus, may just be the best ever. 

The story takes place in the writers’ room of television’s “Your Show Of Shows” (with homage to Sid Caesar), where the scripts and sketches are hatched and hashed about.

Boss Max Prince (David Ellenstein) employs a range of writers, each with his or her own quirks. Hypochondriac Ira (Omri Schein), dry-witted Kenny (Phil Johnson), the pedantic Russian emigrant Val (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper), Max’s secretary Helen (Caroline Drage), the flamboyant Milt (Louis Lotorto), newbie Lucas (Brett Alters), the lone female writer, Carol (Amanda Sitton), and Irish-American Brian (Christopher M. Williams) make up the crazy team that must deliver their ideas on time, regardless of the zany things that go on in this room. 

They saunter into the “office” at various times in the morning making small talk, maybe even talking about the ones who aren’t there yet — like the boss, Max. When Max does arrive, he wants to hear what ideas his crew has for the next show. Good luck is not around as they throw out ideas in last-minute haste, most lacking depth. But that really doesn’t matter because Max isn’t quite together when he arrives, either. Some days are outright shocking!

The cast is amazing, but Ellenstein shines as the often pants-less Max, who sometimes forgets the names of those who work for him, until he gets notice from NBC executives that the show’s length and expenses are about to shrink. Now he’s like a gorilla in a too-small cage. The artistic director has played roles from one scope to another at NCRT, but Max Prince is his bravest and most sidesplitting performance. The evening is full of laughs, but also some profanity, and it’s geared to a more mature audience.

Fun Fact: Why did Simon use ‘23rd Floor’ in the title? Simon once said it’s because Sid Caesar’s writers on the original “Your Show Of Shows” (including Neil Simon and his older brother, Danny Simon) held their script sessions at various times on the 11th and 12th floors of an NBC-TV office building. He added those numbers together to put his fictional cast on the 23rd floor.

IF YOU GO: ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’ plays through Nov. 20 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $43. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org

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