Enter Laughing

It's 40 years since "Enter Laughing" was the vehicle for the ascent to stardom by Alan Arkin. The backstage comedy was never a great play. It hasn't improved with age, and the Berkshire Theater Festival's revival gets its 75th season off to a less than salubrious start. "Enter Laughing" is definitely the sort of play they don't write anymore.

David Kolowitz - Jesse Bernstein Wanda - Deana Barone Miss B., Angela - Rebecca Creskoff Mother, Waitress - Alix Korey Mr. Foreman, Marlowe - Ron Orbach Pike, Roger - Daniel Pearce Marvin, Don - Steven Rosen Father, Don - Stuart Zagnit

It’s 40 years since “Enter Laughing” was the vehicle for the ascent to stardom by a young Alan Arkin. Written by Joseph Stein from Carl Reiner’s semiautobiographical novel of the same name, the Jewish backstage comedy-farce was never a great play, though it ran for a year on Broadway in 1963-64. It hasn’t improved with age, and the Berkshire Theater Festival’s revival gets its 75th anniversary season off to a less than salubrious start. “Enter Laughing” is definitely the sort of play they don’t write anymore.

Fresh from his lively staging of tuner “Me and My Girl” to open the 40th season at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., Scott Schwartz has brought his vigorous imagination to Stein’s script. To begin with, he has cut the cast down to eight, with a number of the actors doubling roles. This in itself gives rise to several big laughs. But he also has broadened the play by turning virtually all of the characters into caricatures, which they weren’t originally.

Schwartz also has set the play, legitimately, in a way that makes it look as though all its scenes are taking place in a theater, with thesps not part of a given scene sitting in theater seats behind footlights at the rear of the set watching their cohorts perform. The cast also helps with scene changes when not involved in quick costume or character changes.

The plot is simple enough: Teenage David Kolowitz (Jesse Bernstein), a recent graduate of a Bronx high school, is working as a messenger boy for Mr. Foreman (Ron Orbach), a sewing-machine repairman. David is a self-admitted “nothin’ who wants to be a somethin’,” specifically an actor (he does, he thinks, a good impersonation of Ronald Colman). He’s hired by a down-on-its-luck theater company run by one Marlowe (also Orbach), a histrionic old actor-manager who sips booze through a straw from a flask in an upper pocket.

Though David is half her size, Marlowe’s voluptuous daughter and leading lady, Angela (Rebecca Creskoff), chooses him as her new leading man. Naturally David is a hopeless actor, though not a hopeless kisser, and rehearsals proceed apace.

The play’s climax is David’s disastrous stage debut, for which the set (too busy for the small Stockbridge stage) is turned inside out, bringing the footlights to the fore for a play within the play, a hoary Southern melodrama.

To state that all of these goings-on are presented broadly, with few if any Jewish cliches resisted, is to put it mildly. Naturally David has “Jewish” parents, a smothering mother and a put-upon father.

As David, Bernstein, who looks much younger than Arkin did, works hard without having quite the personality to carry the play. And if Orbach tends to go over the top from time to time, he clearly differentiates between his Mr. Foreman and his Marlowe, and the two perfs have real theatrical flair. Creskoff’s apparently Tallulah-inspired Angela is amusing, as are her appearances as luscious secretary Miss B. Within the limitations of the script and Schwartz’s blatant approach to it, the rest of the cast is acceptable.

There is, however, no doubt that BTF executive director Kate Maguire should have chosen something less groan-inducing and more in line with the BTF’s often distinguished past with which to open its 75th season.

Enter Laughing

Main Stage, Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge, Mass.; 415 seats; $60 top

Production: A Berkshire Theater Festival presentation of a two-act comedy by Joseph Stein, based on the novel by Carl Reiner. Directed by Scott Schwartz.

Creative: Sets, Beowulf Boritt; costumes, David Murin; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Nick Borisjuk; stage manager, Marjorie Hanneld. Berkshire Theater Festival executive director, Kate Maguire. Opened June 18, 2003. Reviewed June 21. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: David Kolowitz - Jesse Bernstein Wanda - Deana Barone Miss B., Angela - Rebecca Creskoff Mother, Waitress - Alix Korey Mr. Foreman, Marlowe - Ron Orbach Pike, Roger - Daniel Pearce Marvin, Don - Steven Rosen Father, Don - Stuart Zagnit

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content