‘Ba-dum-bum!’ the cue for laugh lines in Nassau Bay comedy
Everybody’s a comedian in Neil Simon’s 1995 play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” playing through March 11 at Clear Creek Community Theatre in Nassau Bay.
In the show, even Helen, the secretary to TV star Max Prince, wants to get in on the mayhem inside the writers’ room where “The Max Prince Show” is cobbled together each week.
Helen is played by stage newcomer Angela Collins, while her real-life husband, Patrick Collins, is an acting veteran who portrays Val Skolsky, the senior member of the writing staff.
Set in 1953, the play was inspired by Neil Simon’s own experiences as a staff writer on Sid Caesar’s classic “Your Show of Shows.”
Patrick Collins said his performance was inspired by the late Mel Tolkin, a legendary comedy writer whose helming of Sid Caesar’s writing staff also inspired the 1982 Oscar-nominated movie “My Favorite Year.”
Simon’s script describes Val as an emigrant from Russia, like Tolkin, who is taking a Berlitz class in English to learn how to curse without a Russian accent.
The script is filled with one-liners, which the characters sometimes follow with the drum-sounding onomatopoeia “Ba-dum-bum” to emphasize the punch line.
Brian Treybig heads the cast as Max Prince, who enters wearing a suit but quickly unzips his pants, taking them off over his dress shoes. Standing at the center of the writer’s room, in his shirt, shorts, socks, shoes and garters, he hands his jacket and pants to Helen, advising her to get them “dry cleaned and pressed. And check my pockets. I don’t want my keys pressed.”
Others on the writing staff include Xavier Lehew as novice Lucas Brickman, Matt Leighton (insult artist Milt Fields), Lance Nutter (aspiring screenwriter Brian Doyle), William Wall (debonair Kenny Franks), Elspeth Dolen (pregnant Carol Wyman) and Chase Folwell (hypochondriac Ira Stone).
Underlying the rapid-fire zingers of the jokesters is McCarthyism that threatens the independence of network TV shows, as well as the consensus that Max Prince’s Jewish, East Coast humor is “too smart” for Middle America, whose viewers are falling for “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.”
At Max’s festive annual Christmas party, Helen confesses that she wants to become a comedy writer, but Max also has surprise news that ends the play with two characters looking at each other and saying, “Ba-dum-bum!”
The CCCT production was directed by David Blystone, a teacher at La Porte High School who began performing at CCCT when he was only 11 years old. Most recently, he played Tredwell in Agatha Christie’s “Black Coffee,” which was Patrick Collins’ first show since moving to Texas.
Angela Collins said that “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” is her “adult theatrical debut.”
CCCT board member John Meek said the couple moved to League City from a small town in Pennsylvania in June 2017.
“They experienced a little culture shock but decided to try out for (plays) as a way of getting to meet people in the area,” Meek said.
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” continues through March 11 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at www.ClearCreekCommunityTheatre.com or by calling 281-335-5228 for reservations. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $13 students and seniors, with group rates available.
Clear Creek Community Theatre is at 18091 Upper Bay Road in Nassau Bay.
Don Maines is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com