Golden Age is a phrase thrown around pretty easily.
The Golden Age of music. The Golden Age of baseball. The Golden Age of Hollywood.
You can argue about the nominations, but there is one Golden Age it’s hard to argue about.
The Golden Age of television comedy was the 1950’s, headlined by Your Show of Shows and the Sid Caesar Hour.
And Next Act Theatre is paying homage to that golden age with “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” the autobiographical play by Neil Simon.
As it ought to be, this production under the direction of Edward Morgan, is as filled with as many laughs as anything we are likely to see this season in Milwaukee.
There are nine characters in this play and in typical Simon fashion, each one has an individual identity and each has moments to shine during the two hours of the show.
The tale takes place in the writer’s room of a 1953 television variety show. The narrator of the play, Lucas Brickman (Zack Thomas Woods) is the Mr. Simon character, the new kid in a room full of zany creative outcasts.
The writers in the real room included Mr. Caesar, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin and, perhaps Woody Allen.
The characters drawn by Mr. Simon provide plenty of material for Mr. Morgan to shepherd his troops through. And the direction in this show is a beautiful example of a director who has the ultimate trust in his actors.
The story being told is about the conflict between the show and the NBC network that is looking to cut costs. Although there is a sword hanging over their heads, these comic figures realize it’s just another week of trying to come up with something that will make people laugh.
There is roaring humor on the surface of this production: from the Russian emigree , Mohammad N. ElBsat, to the only girl in the room, Karen Estrada, whose pregnancy may well be the highlight of the evening.
The writers revolve around Max Prince (David Cecsarini), with slicked back hair and a demanding presence who challenges and loves the writers who make him look so good.
Underneath the surface of the funny, however, the brilliance in this play hones in on the serious business of being funny. This is their livelihood and for these smart people there is nothing funny about being funny. The desperation to be humorous and competitiveness to be the king of the hill for a week are very moving.
A final thought concerns Rick Pendzich, who plays Milt. Earlier this season Mr. Pendzich was The Highland Hitman in Unnecessary Farce at Chamber. It was, perhaps, the funniest performance I’ve ever seen in Milwaukee. In this one, Mr. Pendzich outdoes himself and continues to prove that there is nobody in Milwaukee who handles comedy as he does.
Cast: Lucas, Zack Thomas Woods; Milt, Rick Pendzich; Val Mohammad N. ElBsat; Brian, Dylan Bolin; Kenny, Seth K. Hale; Carol, Karen Estrada; Max Prince, David Cecsarini; Helen, Lindsay Webster; Ira, Adam Qutaishat.
Production credits: Director, Edward Morgan; Scenic Designer, Rick Rasmussen; Liughting Designer, Mike Van Dreser; Costume Designer, Amy Horst; Sound Designer, David Cecsarini; Properties Master, Heidi Salter; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly.