Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Jeffrey Lo
Featuring: Phil Wong, Patrick Kelly Jones, Michael Champlin, Katie McGee Jones, Josiah Frampton, Roneet Aliza Rahamim, Max Tachis, Dan Demers, and Seton Chiang
When: March 12–29, 2020
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets: $27-$60. Visit https://www.hillbarntheatre.org or call 650-349-6411, extension 2.
A great show awaits,
if it can be opened
Laughter in the time of COVID 19.
Putting a comedy play on stage while theaters all around the nation are closing their doors entirely is a desperate challenge.
But that’s what Hillbarn Theatre hopes to do, starting tonight, when it opens Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
Hillbarn is not ignoring the crisis of the global pandemic; it is taking steps to reduce the danger of spreading the disease.
-- While it seats 179, Hillbarn will limit attendance to 100 patrons per performance, and will encourage everybody to spread out in the seats. Social distancing, doncha know.
-- If you are sneezing or coughing, forget about it. You will be shown the door.
-- The theater will be cleaned, top to bottom and side to side, after every performance; ushers, ticket-takers and bartenders will wear nitrile gloves; concession items will be in sealed packages; there will be plenty of soap in the restrooms.
A thoughtful plan, to be sure. But on Thursday night, director Jeffrey Lo posted on Facebook, following the one preview performance, that they weren’t sure the show would open tonight. After all, Foster City, or San Mateo County, or the state, or the World Health Organization might still close down everything.
Hillbarn Executive Artistic Director Dan Demers and Conservatory Director Randy O’Hara on Wednesday announced that “Our mission remains the same: ‘to create theatre with the community and for the community.’
“We are here for you and empower you to make your own decisions when it comes to enriching your lives with art during this time.”
The lucky 100 who get in the theater — if they do — are likely to have a great time with the show. For one thing, it is Doc Simon writing about his memories of writing for Your Show of Show in the 1950s. It takes place in the writers’ room, where — in real life — Mel Brooks, Simon and his brother Danny, Selma Diamond, Carl Reiner and other comic geniuses worked.
The play changes the names, possibly to protect the guilty.
Another reason the lucky 100 will have a great time is the excellent cast assembled by director Jeffrey Lo: Phil Wong, Patrick Kelly Jones, Michael Champlin, Katie McGee Jones, Josiah Frampton, Roneet Aliza Rahamim, Max Tachis, Dan Demers, and Seton Chiang.
“It’s nine amazing comedians on stage who are fully committed to the story and the heart behind the story,” Demers said during a recent phone interview. “People who have a really good time with it.
“It’s an interesting look at the difficulty of creating art.”
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor” roughly covers maybe a year of time in the writers’ room, during the early 1950s, “when times were kind of chaotic and how this team took on the social and political events, shaping them into comedy,” said Demers. “There’s a lot of discussion of McCarthy and McCarthyism, discussion of Russia, Stalin, the political climate after Hitler. It shows how they shaped those conversation pieces once a week into an hour-and-a-half show. It took audiences away, but still educated them.”
Demers and Tachis have both proven themselves to be brilliantly funny on stage, but Demers is especially effusive about Patrick Kelly Jones.
“He is comedically minded, with great timing,” Demers said (in comedy, timing is everything). “Just sheer brilliance in the ideas he comes up with. Patrick is one of the few people who can make me break like glass on stage. Sometimes he’ll throw stuff out that, and I have to look down to collect myself internally.”
OK. Expect to laugh a lot. But, please, no coughing or sneezing.