By Martin F. Kohn
Take heart, would-be stars. If a kid with a ton of desire and a teaspoon of talent can make it, no matter how much his parents want him to go pharmacy school, maybe there’s hope for us all.
That’s the message, one of them, anyway, of “Enter Laughing.” The kid in question is Carl Reiner, who went on to fame and fortune as an actor, writer and director despite a less than auspicious beginning. Rather, the kid in question is sort of Carl Reiner. He’s called David Kolowitz in Joseph Stein’s 1963 comedy (set in the 1930s) based on Reiner’s sort-of autobiographical novel
It’s cut from the archetypal cloth of show-biz biopics and bioplays about young people bound and determined to become artists despite their parents’ objections. Most of those works tend toward the dramatic, whereas “Enter Laughing” goes for (what else?) laughs.
Mary Bremer-Beer’s Jewish Ensemble Theatre production gets them, all right, and ought to add some as the actors become more comfortable in their characters’ skins. The play has its moments, just not enough of them.
The script doesn’t offer much help. Characters are underwritten, one- or at best two-dimensional, with uncomplicated desires. David wants to be an actor; his parents want him to do what they want him to do; David’s girlfriend, Wanda, wants him to be happy; his best friend, Marvin, wants to vicariously enjoy David’s success; Marlowe, who runs the third-rate theater company where David gets his first role, wants to make some money.
Only one character is fully realized, not David, but Mr. Foreman, the man who provides him his day job at a machine shop in the garment district. Foreman, a no-nonsense but kindhearted boss played with authenticity (and a nice New York Yiddish accent) by Greg Trzaskomsa, is the only character given a backstory and the only one who acknowledges there’s a Depression out there.
T.J. Corbett is engaging as David, an effervescent post-adolescent, bubbling with self-confidence but not a shred of narcissism, and blissfully unaware there’s more to being an actor than speaking loudly and over-dramatically. (If Corbett looks familiar, it’s probably because he’s been playing the kid in “Ernie,” Mitch Albom’s play about Ernie Harwell that’s been running downtown every baseball season.)
Kathryn P. Mahard is hyperactively vampy (to great effect) as the lead actress in the godawful play David has been cast in, and Katy Kujala is sweet as Wanda, which is harder than it looks.
Playing Angela’s father, the head of the two-bit theater company, Charles Van Hoose is reminiscent of the exquisitely hammy actors of the ’30s and ’40s (think Vincent Price) and comports himself as if he was born to wear the shabby red smoking jacket he’s always wearing. The smoking jacket is just one of the fine vintage (or vintage-seeming) articles of clothing that costume designer Koerner provides.
Daniel C. Walker’s set, a New York skyline that lights up at night, provides an atmospheric backdrop. Matt Lira’s sound design includes the realistic clang of coins dropping in a pay phone, but the choice of music between scenes is problematic. Sure, songs from the ’20s would still be heard in the ’30s, but songs from the ’40s? Probably not.
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company
at Aaron DeRoy Theatre on the campus of the Jewish Community Center
6600 W. Maple Road., West Bloomfield
7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, 13
5 p.m. & 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, 8, 15
2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, 9, 16
7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2
2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5