Post covid lockdowns and pre a predicted new wave, what we really need is laughter.
And who best can dispense this tonic?
The theatre, of course. Ever it has been the source of diversion. Hence the comedies being produced by Adelaide theatre companies with none funnier than Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
According to director David Grybowski, it is Neil Simon’s funniest play.
And Neil Simon wrote some very funny plays and scored more nominations for Oscars than any other writer.
"Laughter… is a love letter to television star Sid Caesar,” explains Grybowski. "Caesar was host of a variety skit show in the early 1950s, and along with Milton Berle and Jack Benny, one of the hottest properties in television. Sid’s Your Show of Shows was written and performed live every week!”
One of his writers was the young Neil Simon.
He was employed on a team which included some of the great comedy legends of our times - Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. What a school.
The play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, is set in their comedy room.
"The play is so funny! “declares the director.
“Every character is a comedy writer! You are in the room with eight highly creative souls, jostling and kibbitzing for the best lines. It’s an ensemble piece, so there is a lot going on and plenty to look at.”
Since not everybody is familiar with the American milieu of the early 1950s, the production has gone to special measures to contextualise the script.
"In the lobby, there will be 40 minutes of the best of American 1950s television, movies and commercials, including skits featuring Sid Caesar,” explains Grybowski.
"The actors each tell a joke in character as their introduction to the audience."
Grybowski’s enthusiasm to direct the work had some roots in his own theatre experience in Adelaide. He’s well noted as an actor and one of the roles he has performed was this play’s Sid Caesar character, Max Prince, in a 2003 production directed by Judy Menz for St Judes Players.
"I can’t believe my good luck that nobody else has produced it in Adelaide up to now!” he declares. "What schmucks!"
He describes “the trick in directing” it is in taking to physicalising words on the page "into a visual feast”.
"No stone that might be hiding a good laugh is left unturned! “, says he.
"Working with my cast to wrench out the physical business that’s not even in the script was the most satisfying creative thing I’ve ever done. And I have my experience of performing with and being directed by the late great Matt Bryne to thank for that. He has been an angel on my shoulder throughout the rehearsals.”
As for the cast, Grybowski is effusive.
"Once you cast a play, you can’t imagine anyone else doing it.
"Gavin Cianci of musical theatre fame is our Max. Frank Cwertniak plays the head of the comedy team in an hilarious Russian sort of accent. Think Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke in The Dick Van Dyke Show playing similar roles. Chris Gun is an amazing physical comedy actor. Andrew Horwood as the hypochondriac is all chutzpah and soul. Tom Filsell and Anthony Vawser utilise their own idiosyncratic styles to create their complex characters. Jo Coventry has taken on the comic schtick with verve given her stand-up experience. Robert Baulderstone as the Neil Simon character is so sweet, you’ll want to run up on stage and give him a kiss. Lauren Weber once again shows there are no small roles in theatre. The ensemble interplay is so rich, you’ll have to see it twice. “
Then there’s the crew. Productions don’t make themselves. Despite program credits, audience members often don’t realise how many people are involved behind the scenes.
"Supporting the performers is the exceptional theatre magic-making machine of The Repertory Theatre Company,” he enthuses.
“This includes hairdresser/props person Rebecca Jarrett, costume designer Gilian Cordell, lighting designer Richard Parkhill, publicist Laura Antoniazzi, set constructors Stanley Tuck and Barry Blakebrough – I can’t tell you how grateful I am!
“There are people running around, running things and getting stuff and helping out – Production Manager Penni Hamilton-Smith and Assistant Director Rose Vallen. Experienced Erik Strauts will be calling the shots as Stage Manager. And we are making a three-hour movie as well as a two-hour play.”
The list goes on.
"A big shout out to The Rep’s Ray Trowbridge who has been my co-creative and assembler of all the moving imagery we are going to show,” says Grybowski.
"It’s just astounding, but you know what? Amateur theatre is like this in Adelaide. Tons of it and full of energy and volunteers.”
They’ve all worked on this tonic in the Arts Theatre. Go on out and lap it up.
When: 17 to 26 Nov
Where: The Arts Theatre