Tuesday, June 26, 2012


On Friday evening, Joshua and I and my middle brother went to Saint Paul to attend a performance of Neil Simon’s “Laughter On The 23rd Floor” at Park Square Theatre.

Originally produced in 1993, “Laughter On The 23rd Floor” is Simon’s play about his experiences as a comedy writer for early television. Many, perhaps most, of the characters are based upon persons Simon knew while working in the early days of the medium.

We had not seen a previous staging of the play, and we had not seen the television adaptation that first aired in 2001. We came to the material with fresh eyes and fresh ears.

“Laughter On The 23rd Floor” is not so much a play as a series of jokes and one-liners. The characters announce themselves within thirty seconds of their introductions—they are immediately-discernible “types” with no subtleties to reveal and no dramatic developments to withstand—and then proceed to carry out the one-dimensional functions Simon has assigned to them. The plot is identical to the old television series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, except that the coterie of writers is much larger than the Buddy-and-Sally duo from the TV series (and no home life is shown).

As drama, the play is dreadful, and yet it may be endured without pain, just as four consecutive episodes of some mildly diverting television comedy can help occupy a couple of hours of idle time.

The Park Square Theatre production was not bad, although we were not under the impression we were witnessing something distinguished or memorable. The acting ensemble was better than the lukewarm local reviews had led us to expect.

My brother and Josh and I caught three Neil Simon plays this season: “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “Lost In Yonkers” and “Laughter On The 23rd Floor”. I cannot recall ever seeing so many Simon plays within such a short period of time.

A new production of Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” will open next month at The Guthrie. We will not go. We have exceeded our allotment of Simon plays for the present.

On Sunday afternoon, Josh and I took my parents to The Museum Of Russian Art to see two exhibitions. One exhibition was devoted to photography from the final four decades of the Soviet Period, and the other was devoted to paintings from the final four decades of the Soviet Period.

Neither exhibition was significant, and no major works of art were on display, yet we enjoyed a pleasant two hours. The paintings on view never veered far from Socialist Realism—even those from the very end of the Soviet Period were dully conformist—but the purpose of the exhibition was to present “establishment” art typical of the time and place, unthreatening to the Soviet State, and not art reflecting modernist tendencies unsanctioned by authorities.

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