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Stage Reviews

No need to worry: "Laughter" star is far from a bozo
by Richard Christiansen
Tribune Chief Critic

Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" which opened here two months ago with a sterling cast, lost its excellent, original leading man (Ron Orbach) to a TV job in Los Angeles two weeks after its opening. Now after some juggling, and interim work by understudy Mark Morettini, the part of Max Prince, the Sid Caeser-like 1950's television comedian, has been taken over by Joey D'Auria, an actor best known in Chicago for his day job as Bozo the Clown on the WGN-TV kiddie show (although this is not mentioned in his program biography).

D'Auria, dark and compact, does not have the sheer heft of Caesar's size to make some of the show's physical jokes work. He's more of a toy terrier compared with Caesar's bull mastiff. But, judging from last Sunday's matinee performance, he can shpritz with the best of them, and, as required, he has the awesome energy to keep the bang-bang pace of the comedy ringing right along.

Meanwhile, his ensemble cohorts, portraying Prince's harried comedy writing staff, have grown even sharper and more finely tuned. There's not a moment in their wild, raucous joke-making that doesn't involve all eight of them in either socking over the punch line or responding to it.

This is a very tightly knit and neatly meshed group, a fact that makes the show's sentimental view of the writers as a lovable family of lunatics all the more funny and poignant.

Laughter on the 23rd Floor
11/20/1994 The Briar Street Theater
A re-review by Roy Leonard - WGN Radio/TV

There's a new reason to see Neil Simon's "LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR" currently playing at the Briar Street Theater. It's still an outrageously funny show but now that Chicago actor Joey D'Auria has added a darker dimension to the Max Prince character, the play has taken on a shade of paranoia that makes it more than just a series of gags and one liners.

Simon's play is built around his years as a writer for Sid Caesar's 1950's television show, "YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS". The fictional Max Prince, like Caesar, is insecure, addicted, beleaguered and, at times, darkly demented. D'Auria, who has just taken over the lead role, uses every bone in his body and muscle in that extremely expressive face to convince us that behind the rage and ranting of this complicated character there lies a genuine comic genius.

Joey D'Auria is best known to TV audiences as BOZO THE CLOWN, but it's obvious that this gifted actor has a great deal more to offer Chicago audiences. While the kids continue to laugh at the antics of his red haired clown on the TV screen, adults should think seriously of hiking over to the Briar Street Theater on Halsted Street to see his enormously entertaining performance in Neil Simon's very funny play.

"Backstage West" 11/28/01 Chekhov’s Shorts
by Terri Roberts

The American Russian Theatrical Alliance makes an impressive debut on the local theatre scene with this short, invigorating, well-produced hour of entertainment. Two Chekhov one-acts about love and marriage, The Proposal and The Bear, are presented within the framework of a group of small-town citizens eager to dispute a disparaging newspaper story that paints them and their town as boring and uninteresting. (Man With a Newspaper is written by Elmar Mamedov, who did the Chekhov translations, as well.) To prove the writer wrong (and three guesses who that turns out to be), these folks decide to stage for the acknowledged audience two stories about what happened to some of their fellow citizens in their quests for holy matrimony.

The program bills the show as "An Evening of Russian Vaudeville," which sets the tone quite well. All the grand passion of the Russian people is here, and that energy is bumped up a notch or two with fast-paced direction, a willingness to indulge in buffoonery (if called for), and a cast of strong, grounded actors who obviously know this terrain well enough--and trust themselves, director Dmitri Boudrine (who also created the virginal white scenic design), and one another well enough--to let go and see what happens.

Both one-acts illustrate the all-too-human foibles of their characters in all their confusing, maddening glory. In The Proposal, a jittery Ivan Vasilievitch Lomov (the delightful Sergei Sage) visits the home of his neighbor, Stepan Stepanovitch Chubukov (splendid Joey D'Auria), to ask for his daughter Natalia's hand in marriage. But in trying to pop the question, Ivan and the beautiful, proud Natalia (a willfully wonderful Olga Vilner) get sidetracked with ever-escalating arguments about such incidentals as who owns what land and who has the better dog. Sparks soon become full-fledged fireworks as these three struggle hilariously to prove they are right and to get what they want. Anger again leads to more amorous adventures in The Bear (meaning an insult), in which a haughty, narcissistic widow, Popova (Anastasia Drake), is visited by the handsome, debt-ridden Smirnov (Ed Cunningham), who's seeking payment of the money owed him by her late husband...Cunningham, particularly, is a grand wonder of contrasts, switching from explosive ("I want to blow up the world!") to astonished ("Ohh, pickles!") in the flick of an eye...

This new company is loaded for promise, and even promise bilingual productions. "Bojimoy!" screams Joey D’Auria as "land-snatcher" Stepan Stepanovitch. This means "Oh my God!" in English. We can almost hear George W. and best pal Vladimir using them as interchangeably as Chekhov estate owners terrified by a new century.

(c)2004 Joey D'Auria