|Photo courtesy Park Square Theatre|
|Michael Paul Levin, Ari Hoptman and Karen Wiese-Thompson in Laughter on the 23rd Floor.|
Zach Curtis easily admits that Neil Simon is not his favorite playwright. "When I first got Laughter on the 23rd Floor, I was not a Neil Simon fan," he says. "I'm still not the biggest. I read it with a big chip on my shoulder, but it isn't like any of his other shows."
In fact, the current production at Park Square Theatre is the fourth time Curtis has tackled the play, a fictionalized look at Simon's days in the 1950s as a writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows.
"[Simon's] plays are very funny, but they can be mawkish or sentimental. This one is all non-stop jokes with nasty, biting comments," Curtis says. "This is not the familiar Neil Simon. This is the Neil Simon after he has become a little more wizened, and recounting a group of very funny people."
Through the different productions -- for Pig's Eye, Fifty Foot Penguin, and the Paul Bunyan Playhouse -- Curtis has built a company of actors for the play, many of who return here. The show features Ari Hoptman (all four productions), Randy Funk and Karen Wiese-Thompson (third time around), and a number doing it their second time. John Catron and Craig Johnson are the newcomers. (Somewhat ironic for Johnson, as this is his 50th show for Park Square.)
Curtis and the cast have found similarities between the ways the writers on Your Show of Shows worked and their own process. "The rehearsal room is a lot like the writing room. A lot of it is making fun of each other and telling stories," he says.
Producing at Park Square has allowed Curtis to open up the piece. "The set we are working on is unbelievable. It is bigger and better than anything we've worked on before," he says. "There are little things. In the last scene, there's a Christmas tree. This is the first time we could do it because before we didn't have a backstage person. The actors couldn't do it because all of them were making costume changes."
In the end, it's all about the play. "It's the first time Park Square has done a Neil Simon play. The older audiences will enjoy seeing these characters. The younger audiences will like it because it is a good comedy," Curtis says. "The funny thing is that the things I don't like about him in general are still present in the show, but I can overlook them. He captured the language of these people so well. If you know who certain people are based on, you can see how well he captured their voices."
IF YOU GO:
Laughter on the 23rd Floor
The show is currently in preview, opening Friday and running through July 8
Park Square Theatre
20 W. 7th Pl., St. Paul
$38-$58 (previews: $25)
For information, call 651.291.7005 or visit online.
20 W. 7th Place, St. Paul, MN