The Classic Stage Company’s revival of John Osborne’s “The Entertainer” is rather like the play’s main character, Archie Rice: It shambles along, not feeling anything, dead behind the eyes. There are some individual efforts to breathe life into the work, especially from Brian Murray in the lead role, but this production sinks into the boozy despair of its characters.
“The Entertainer” premiered almost 40 years ago, within weeks of the historical event, the Suez Crisis, that figures directly in the lives of the Rice family. The British have invaded Egypt to prevent the Suez Canal from being nationalized. Archie (Murray), a down-at-the-heels music hall entertainer, has a son who has been captured and held prisoner by the Egyptians. Archie’s daughter, Jean (Kate Forbes), unaware of what has happened to her brother, takes part in a protest rally against the war.
When originally produced, “The Entertainer’s” proximity to the war must have lent a vitality that no longer exists. Without the inherent tension of the war, the play loses its shape. The actors, including Murray and Jean Stapleton, as his long-suffering wife, appear to sense this, and work harder, as if their extra effort could fill the gaps.