Quiet Chuckle on the 1st Floor: A Review of Park Square Theater’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor”

This is a guest post by Natalie Goldman, a 24-year-old living the dream in the heart of Uptown. She hails from Mendota Heights but had a fantastic four year stint at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Since leaving Wisconsin with a Marketing Major, she has been working in Merchandising at Target Headquarters. She enjoys exploring Uptown, running around the Minnesota lakes, and traveling as much as possible!

Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Photo Credit: Petronella Ytsma

I braved the light rail construction and bike race road closures in St. Paul last night to see a showing of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at the Park Square Theater (playing now through July 8). As I walked to my seat to a background tune of “You Belong to Me” by Jo Stafford (before you get too impressed with my knowledge of fifties crooners – I’ll admit I Shazammed it), I noticed that I was one of the youngest people in the crowd. While it was a pretty full house for a Wednesday night showing, there was clearly a majority of 50-70 somethings in the audience.
Park Square did a nice job with the set. It portrayed an early TV era writer’s room with an oval writing table on one side and a lounge area on the other. Granted the authenticity of the room may have been dampened by the many Ikea and Target tchotchkes and furniture pieces that I was able to pick out with my expert retail eye. The skyline of New York provided a scenic background out the windows and helped the audience understand where everything was going down. The two one-hour-long halves were split by an intermission (I was tempted to grab a quick drink at the neighboring Meritage in between but resisted) but I thought they could have been shortened a bit and merged together into one.
The premise of the play is to look into the world of Max Prince and his staff of writers of a weekly comedy-variety show in the early 1950s. Each of the writers has a distinct personality and quirks that provide the basis for the chatter back and forth throughout. Additionally, each writer is based on a real television personality or writer from that time. A few of my favorite characters were Ira Stone (inspired by Mel Brooks and played Ari Hoptman) who is a chronically late hypochondriac and the aforementioned Max Prince (St. Paul’s own Michael Paul Levin channeling the now 89 year old Sid Caesar) who is the perpetually angry, continuously worried, and feared leader of the group. The lone woman on the writing staff, Carol Wyman, also had some witty one liners that I enjoyed.
To the extent there was a plot, it revolved around the writers themselves, tossed against the backdrop of their time including the brief heyday of 50’s comedy and the ominous threats from both Communism and Macarthyism on the one hand, and censorship threats on the other. There were Slapstick elements and light humor throughout, with the actors often ending their jokes with a verbal “Ba-da bump” as the punch line.
There were also Jewish touches throughout the play from the initial “turn off your cell phone” warning with a Yiddish twist, to making reference to “only one of the writers being a gentile.”
I would suggest this play to someone fond of Neil Simon, Your Show of Shows, 50’s comedy, and lighter or slapstick comedy. Since I don’t fall into any of those buckets it was not at the top of my list of favorite plays but the audience did seem appreciate the somewhat cheesy jokes and light humor that seemed appropriate on a warm Summer night.
Laugher on the 23rd Floor plays through July 8th with shows Wednesday – Sunday each week. Check parksquaretheatre.org for details.
Oh, and Ba-da Bump!

*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received free tickets to  ”Laughter on the 23rd Floor” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the tickets for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a glowing review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Blah, blah, blah…