Neil Simon's 1993 comedy "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" is being presented through Sunday at the Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon Theatre) in Burbank.
The setting is a New York City television writers' room in the early 1950s, when a band of comedy writers, a secretary and a brash TV show host banter, clash and strive to tap what's humorous about news, politics and culture amid a major media transition from smart, snappy routines to the onset of televised sports, variety and situational comedy.
This is Neil Simon's homage to early television figures such as Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks.
Retooled slightly by director Michael Shepperd, with Simon's approval, the neurotic characters try to please the blustery boss of a weekly 90-minute show.
Simon's distinctive TV comedy tale unfolds with a narrative as young Neil Simon stand-in Lucas (Jason Grasl in his Garry Marshall Theatre debut) frames the story of making audiences laugh amid TV's fading Golden Age.
The production also features John Ross Bowie, who is in the TV show "Speechless."
The back office crew of writers languish as they make sharp jokes about Ibsen and Shakespeare, an intelligent approach to humor which was about to fall prey to the less literate post-war culture.
The fate of the fictional "Max Prince Show" faces an ongoing conflict with a TV network, climaxing with the play's theme that writers are human, too.
"Laughter on the 23rd Floor" mines Neil Simon's ability to portray ordinary people, making light of life's indignities.
Similar in tone to Simon's acclaimed "Lost in Yonkers" and his 1980s trilogy of coming-of-age-themed plays, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" re-creates artistic struggle with a wistful longing that also wrestles with the 1950s' deficiencies.