Joseph Stein’s comedy "Enter Laughing,"
now on stage at the Heights Players, began as a semi-autobiographical
novel by comedian Carl Reiner.
And while it is hard to believe that Reiner was ever as inept and talentless as his hero, David Kolowitz (Michael Basile), "Enter Laughing," like most of Reiner’s work, from the big to the little screen, is enormously funny.
As the play opens, David is working in the machine shop of Mr. Foreman (the perfectly cast Bernie Lippman). Foreman is sharp-tongued and critical, but he takes a genuine interest in his young helper. He wants David to marry a nice Jewish girl, learn the trade and someday take over the business.
David, who is looking for a more exciting future, answers an ad seeking student actors, and despite a laugh-till-you-cry audition, manages to get cast in a show directed by the regal Harrison Marlowe (Pierre O’Farrell), mostly because the star of the show, his daughter, Angela (Gina Healy) has taken a liking to the unlikely thespian. There’s only one hitch: David must not only pay for this "learning" experience, he also has to buy his own costume - a tuxedo that will cost him $10. Fortunately, his devoted girlfriend, Wanda (Yonit Kafka) lends him the money and David is on his way.
But not quite. David must still struggle with his skeptical parents, Emma (Vicky Grubman) and Morris (Ed Healy); as well as Foreman, his unhappy boss, who does not appreciate David’s new, erratic hours and glaring inexperience.
David’s botched attempts at acting (he misses cues, subvocalizes his leading lady’s lines, mispronounces words, overacts and does not understand the difference between stage directions and dialogue) create most of the play’s funniest moments. Basile has so masterfully incorporated the tone and the gestures, to say nothing of the Bronx accent, of Young Kolowitz, that even the most outrageous scenes seem perfectly believable. Besides, the audience is too busy laughing to worry about believability.
But strong runners-up in the funny scene category are those Basile has with Lippman, who looks and acts like he just stepped out of Yiddish theater. And Chazmond J. Peacock, as Marvin, David’s friend from a business upstairs, gives the role a lazy buffoonish touch that contrasts nicely with David’s vague but urgent ambition.
Healy and Grubman have the right tone and timing but are not as thoroughly convincing as Basile and Lippman. And O’Farrell, last seen as Eddie Carbone in "A View From the Bridge," proves that he can be just as effective as the straight man who gets both our laughter and sympathy.
"Enter Laughing" has more scene changes than can be easily handled by a community theater, but director Ted Thompson manages handily with a luscious red-curtain backdrop and movable sets (the Kolowitz kitchen, on- and off-stage of the Marlowe Theatre, a dairy restaurant) designed by Bill Wood. Happily, the sets are minimal, and the crew is quick.
"Enter Laughing" premiered at the Henry Miller Theatre in March 1963. It starred well known actors Alan Arkin, as David, Vivian Blaine, as Angela, and Sylvia Sidney, as Mrs. Kolowitz, but the play ran for only one year. A musical version, "So Long, 174th Street," which featured Kaye Ballard, George S. Irving and, in the chorus, Susan Stroman, was even less successful. Nevertheless, the play has an innocence and a borscht-belt-like charm one misses in these more cynical times.
See "Enter Laughing" and you will exit laughing.
The Heights Players production of "Enter Laughing" plays through March 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 seniors and students. The Heights Players are located at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.