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Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Published April 19, 2024

A Prince among comics

 

Amy Danielson

Lens Writer

 

Laughter on the 23rd Floor is one instance of a production by a small theater company (Pigs Eye Theatre, specifically) that uses its available talent almost to the point that they burstñquite literally, in the case of one actor. The magnitude of talent in this show is a wonderful example of the raw talent hidden in the Twin Cities’ theater scene. To the inexperienced and the pompous, the Guthrie may exhibit the pinnacle of great acting, but that is a delusion. And while other critics shame this production for its loose ends and overabundance of punch lines, I think it deserves more praise for what works exceptionally well (the acting) than criticism of its shortcomings. In this case, the positive attributes certainly outweigh the negative. Certainly, in this Niel Simon comedy there are many one-liners that fall short of hilarious. But most scenes work, and they are marvelously over-the-top.

Director Zach Curtis deserves recognition here. After all, comedy is notoriously hard to pull off, and there are more funny moments once this play gets rolling than in most comedies around town.

This is Neil Simon’s musing of his days as a writer on Sid Caeser’s Your Show of Shows. Instead of Caesar however, we get Max Prince, a drug addled and intemperate television star with a paternal, bullying affection for his writers.

The cast consists of great local talent and a few noteworthy comedians, but two of these cast members dispense strikingly funny performances: Ari Hoptman and Edwin Strout. Their characters have something in common. Specifically, they’re both utter lunatics. Although one could argue that Max Prince (played by Strout) is far crazier than the hypochondriac Ira Stone (Hoptman)ñthe latter simply imagines himself to be ill, while Prince genuinely seems to be deteriorating before our eyes.

But then crazy, it seems, is common among creative types. One of the first characters we meet is a writer, Milt Fields, played by comedian Alex Cole, who dresses to be recognized without knowing or caring about the social context of his clothing, and delivers annoying one-liners throughout the entire show.

 

Hoptman and Strout have another quality in common: they both bring an enormously genuine quality to their roles. In the case of Hoptman, this is a shock.

I expected Hoptman to be funny, having watched him perform his stand-up shtick, but I didn’t expect this. Hoptman delivers his lines in a frenzy as he illustrates each new illness as it reportedly moves through his body. His character, loosely based on Mel Brooks, throws shoes out of the 23rd story window in one scene and writes, in all-caps and in indelible marker, “I HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR” on the wall in another. All the while Hoptman acts like this is part of his everyday routine.

Strout, on the other hand, has proven himself to be a solid performer in previous productions, but this is the first time I’ve seen him act with such impetuous fervor. His roiling rage occasionally inspires grand acts of symbolic violence, and as he fumes, he tears holes in the set. In one erumpent, Strout attempts to physically tear Hoptman to pieces, and he appears livid enough to actually remove Hoptman’s head just as he had snatched the arm off a chair in an earlier scene. Strout’s corybantic performance alone makes this a wildly entertaining show, worth seeing during its regrettably short run.

 

Laughter on the 23rd Floor plays through March 30 at the Cedar Riverside People’s Center, (612) 362-5987.

 

Amy Danielson accepts comments at [email protected].

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