A Neil Simon comedy will take the stage at State Fair Community College with the production of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” beginning Feb. 24.
SFCC Theatre Arts Coordinator, Instructor and Director for the production Eric Yazell said he’s always been an fan of Neil Simon. So, the idea to bring the show based on Simon’s experience as a young writer in 1953 to SFCC was a natural.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” Yazell said. “I’ve always loved Neil Simon. He has three autobiographical plays called ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs,’ ‘Bloxi Blues’ and ‘Broadway Bound.’ I’ve always been interested in Neil Simon plays, so I just felt like I connected with those plays.”
Yazell said “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is actually a continuation of the other three Simon plays.
“It’s about his experiences during Sid Ceasar’s ‘Show of Shows,’” Yazell said. “He was part of the writing staff.”
Simon was part of a staff of comedians such as Woody Allen, Mel Tolkin, Mel Brooks, Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner.
“We have a Mel Brooks character, he’s kind of a hypochondriac,” Yazell said of the production. “We have Val who is Mel Tolkin, who is of Russian descent … they kind of have some fun with how he says certain words.”
Yazell said many young people today aren’t familiar with the comedians of the ’50s, but they do watch “Saturday Night Live,” which is in a way a “spin-off” of Sid Ceasar’s “Your Show of Shows.”
Yazell said there are many funny moments in the play but one of the highlights is a bet between comedians.
“I think one of them is a bet that turns into an argument of who’s the funniest comic and they bet their shoes,” Yazell said. “That’s a pretty funny moment.”
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is R-rated due to “salty” language.
“Because it is all biographical of the writer’s realm, the words will fly sometimes,” Yazell noted. “Emotions will fly. There are some of them you just can’t cut and still keep the feeling.
“There is also a running joke based on one word in particular,” he added. “The Russian can’t pronounce it and everyone tries to teach him how to say it correctly. If you can get past the language it’s a wonderful show. It’s funny. It’s got some really nice moments at the end.
“It really is about Sid Ceasar and his core of writers who wrote smart comedies,” Yazell said. “They would make fun of Marlon Brando’s performance in ‘Julius Ceasar.’ I think it’s more of a heightened comedy.”
Simon was a “master of one-liners.”
“There’s just so many one-liners in there,” Yazell said. “It’s a perfect venue for him to do that … they are just throwing zingers at each other all the time. The one-liners are great throughout the show.”
“That in itself is totally worth it to see,” said Adriana Luffman, SFCC speech and theatre major and assistant director for the play.
Luffman describes herself as the behind-the-scenes-person for the production.
“I am the person that does all the line notes, I call the show,” she said.
Luffman said she prefers to act in comedies and to watch dramas.
“I’m a little like Eric,” she added. “I feel like I would actually prefer going into directing. It’s also because I have the knowledge of doing acting, so I feel like I can get more into directing.”
Last year Luffman directed one-act student plays at SFCC.
“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I like having control over what I’m doing but still watching other people who add their ideas into this. It becomes bigger and better. The creative process makes it all worth it. Overall, theatre has become a very important part of my life.”
Yazell said the cast of nine spent time watching Sid Ceasar so they could understand their parts.
“It makes me sad sometimes that young adults don’t necessarily know about the Sid Ceasar’s of the world, the great comedy teams,” he added. “Most students look at you and say ‘Ceasar? Who’s Sid Ceasar?’”
Through their research he’s pleased at how the the cast has come together.
“The cast is working well together,” he said. “They get a little frustrated sometimes, but I think they have grown a lot. There’s not one character in there that doesn’t have their moment to shine.”
SFCC Theatre Arts Program will present “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24-27 in the Stauffacher Theatre on the Sedalia campus. A dinner theatre will be hosted at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 before the evening’s production. A 2 p.m. matinée will be performed Sunday Feb. 28.
Tickets are available at www.sfccmo.edu/thearts or by calling the box office from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 596-7387. Tickets cost $6 for the public and are free for SFCC students and employees. Dinner theatre admission is $15 for the public and $10 for SFCC students and employees. The Sunday matinée is free to anyone 60 and older.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.