You don’t have to climb all the way to the 23rd floor to find laughter. There’s plenty of it in the audience of Little Rock’s Arkansas Repertory Theatre, where Neil Simon’s comedy “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is onstage.
Not even the whooping woman in the middle of Friday’s opening-night crowd could diminish the mood.
Simon is one of the funniest of contemporary playwrights, and when his subject is comedy — the writing room on a 1950s hit TV comedy show — there’s a broad scope for laughs.
Simon bases the play on his time among the writers of Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” thinly disguised here as “The Max Prince Show,” with the seven writers and the star doing a high wire act each week, trying to make Saturday nights funny while contending with uncomprehending sponsors, network executives and censors. Simon neatly weaves in some of the era’s nastier bugaboos, including Joseph McCarthy and the role of a woman in a male-dominated workplace.
The show is perfectly cast, starting with Judge Reinhold as manic Max Prince, at his first appearance pantsless, paranoid and puzzled. Ben Liebert, as Simon’s alter-ego, Lucas Brickman, stops occasionally for bits of back-lit narration; the show features brilliant turns by, as fellow writers, Drew Hirshfield, Jonas Cohen, Gary Newton, Lacy J. Dunn, Matt DaSilva and Scott Cote. In fine support, Finley Daniel plays Helen, a naive young secretary hoping, ineptly, to become a comedy writer.
In comedy, of course, timing is everything, and director Ari Edelson successfully keeps that and the pacing nearly perfect, with the exception of a couple of slightly draggy moments in the first act. There’s a substantial amount of four-letter language, enough for the theater to give the show an R rating, so leave the kiddies at home, but none of it is gratuitous or shocking.
Benjamin Kramer’s set captures the essence of a writers’ room, down to the actual (or a darn good imitation thereof) Emmy Award on the center of the table. The production is dedicated to the memory of longtime Rep comic actor Terry Sneed, who died last year.
Reinhold et al. return to the Rep stage, 601 Main St., through Feb. 19. For curtain times and ticket information, call (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.