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West Coast Players comedy is about Neil Simon's early days

CLEARWATER

They say laughter is the best medicine, so if your funny bone needs tickling, head over to the West Coast Players Theatre for a dose of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

The two-act comedy premieres tonight and runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 20 at the theater on U.S. 19.

The merriment comes with a warning: It's recommended for mature audiences, who will hear the F-bomb dropped quite frequently. For community theater around here, that's a rarity.

"We are carving a niche of being fearless in the type of plays we select," director Ashlie Mohney said. "We are taking on plays that some theater groups would consider too risky."

Last season, West Coast Players presented Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, about a couple's tempestuous relationship, and The Boys Next Door, a comedy about four mentally disabled men who live in a group home.

West Coast Players won two Lary Awards (for Favorite Dramatic Production and Favorite Comedy Production) for the shows.

"Those two plays hadn't been done in the area," Mohney said, "but a good story is a good story. And this one (Laughter on the 23rd Floor) is hilarious."

The play, which debuted on Broadway in 1993, is based on Simon's early career in the 1950s when he was a rookie comedy writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. That was television's golden era, and Simon worked with a dream team of comic geniuses that included Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.

In his fictionalized account set in 1953, Simon's alter ego, Lucas Brickman (played by Jason Freeman), narrates the office antics of a team of gagsmiths as they craft skits for The Max Prince Show, a top-rated 90-minute variety show on NBC.

Problems arise as NBC executives fear their wit is too sophisticated for the audience. They want the writers to dumb it down and pare it to an hour.

The thought sends the lovable but psychotic host, Max Prince (Richard Rosen), into eyeball-popping, wall-busting fits of rage. The character is said to be based on the likes of Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar.

One wonders how Simon and his comedy-writing colleagues got anything done with their typical workdays full of pandemonium, pranks and endless one-liners.

As Russian-accented senior writer Val Skolsky (Bill Harber) puts it in Laughter, "We've had a bagel break, a Joe McCarthy break, a shotgun break, a hole-in-the-wall break, a Cyclantis break, and two-pairs-of-shoes-out-the-window break. We've used up all our breaks."

But after all the comedy contests and neck-wringing fights, a delightful parody of Marlon Brando as Julius Caesar is born. Along the way, the Simon character evolves from naive freshman status to "honorary lunatic."

If you go

What: West Coast Players present Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

When: Tonight through March 20. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Where: West Coast Players Theatre, 21905 U.S. 19 N in Clearwater. The theater is near the northeast corner of the Drew Street intersection in an industrial complex close to a Toyota dealership.

Tickets: $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, students and military. $12 group rates available. Reservations recommended.

Info: Call (727) 437-2363 or visit wcplayers.org.

West Coast Players comedy is about Neil Simon's early days 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 5:31pm]
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