AISLE SAY Florida
LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR
by Neil Simon
Directed by Robert Ennis Turoff
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre
25 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, 941-366-5454, To November 18, 2007
Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker
Sentimental Simon isnŐt as funny as satiric Simon in his fictionalized look back at his early years in NBCŐs WritersŐ Room working on Sid CaesarŐs ŇShow of Shows.Ó Golden AppleŐs take on the shenanigans of those who wrote comedy for Max (Caesar), who did comedy, shows Director Bob TuroffŐs feelings for Simon run deep. The result is a production that outdoes the play, not only in bemoaning the last days of TVŐs Golden Age of Comedy but also in generating warmth. Max fighting against the bosses alternates with infighting among the writers. One-liners abound during their clashes but their at-the-heart real feelings for each other and mutual respect for their talents come through in their collaborations on scripts, their admiring comments about Max, and above all, their disdain for Joseph McCarthy and TV mogulŐs tastes for nothing but profit. If the ending is somewhat of a let-down, how the actors handle it is not. When senior writer Ira (stridently funny Sam Mossler) eulogizes Max, all seem to salute Caesar, hinting they will carry what he stood for as they go separate ways.
Tom BengstonŐs Max Prince is central to the script but also ably supplies most of the physical comedy. His fists often go through the back wall, yet that doesnŐt seem to have fazed Michael Newton-Brown. His set and lights meet every challenge. Michael Bajjaly, whether in beret and cape or bright white suit, fits to a tee the flamboyant role of Milt, whereas the really (offstage) extrovert Cliff Roles shifts into being slightly scared but, in every sense, quick-witted Russian immigrant Val. As Brian, Christopher Swan truly seems always ready to depart for a job in Hollywood. When he and Ira bait or beat on each other, John RussoŐs dignified Kenny goes between them effectively. Melanie Souza makes the most of her part as secretary and wannabe writer. Her Helen would have a tough time, though, measuring up to Carol, the sole woman (and doesnŐt Kyle Ennis Turoff know it!) on the writerŐs team. Kyle Turoff handles CarolŐs pregnant period so well that sheŐs in danger of spreading a relevant rumor. Like Agnes Gooch minus her whining. Bringing everything together is Lucas, SimonŐs alter-ego, brightly played by Joey Panek. Appropriate costumes are of Dee RichardsŐ design.
Director Turoff has always maintained Neil Simon plays give a new theatre a chance. After many years of the Apple presenting musicals only, Turoff is taking that chance to open his theatreŐs 37th consecutive year—a national dinner theatre record—in downtown Sarasota. During the real estate boom, it looked like the record might end. So a second Apple is going up in Lakewood Ranch, Manatee (next to Sarasota County). No surprise if Simon will be featured there too.
Stage Management is by Alyssa Goudy. Time: 2 hrs., 10 mins. w/15 min. intermission.