Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 19,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On Broadway: `Thousand Clowns’

Minus his trademark mustache, film star Tom Selleck

is making his Broadway debut in a vehicle close to his heart in Herb

Gardner’s 1962 play "A Thousand Clowns." Selleck, best known

for his role in the TV series "Magnum P.I., confides in his

program

biography that this was his favorite play when he began his acting

career. Let’s hope he has since changed his mind. Under the direction

of John Rando, Selleck actually comes through admirably, if a little

stiffly, in this extremely quaint ode to nonconformity. With a little

compassion and empathy extended toward Selleck, it is possible to

be slightly amused by Selleck as Murray Burns, ex-children’s

television

show writer and our protagonist, as he shouts playful commands from

his fire escape to his neighbors ("I want to see better quality

garbage tomorrow, more champagne, more caviar tins"). Also give credit

to Gardner who was writing this in the mid 1960s, with a vision of

how the individual spirit of man must soar beyond the limits of

convention

— sometimes at the expense of rationality — just for the glory

and freedom of the soul.

Perhaps it was this philosophy that brought Selleck and his director,

Rando, to this questionable project. Without apologies to the play’s

originator Jason Robards, Selleck can consider Murray Burns, however,

a modestly encouraging sendoff to what we hope will be more worthy

theatrical roles. Burns is an adult dropout. After years of writing

idiotic drivel the kiddie show, "Chuckles the Chipmunk," he

calls it quits and retires to his one-room apartment, a site he takes

pride in maintaining like the ruins of Pompeii. Among these ruins

of Murray’s life is his only treasure, Nick his worldly, 12-year-old

ward and nephew who not only shares his apartment, but acts as a

stabilizing

force for his erratic uncle.

Nick, the younger but wiser of the pair, tries valiantly to provoke

Murray, the older but funnier, to "please get a job" so the

child welfare board won’t separate them. Unexpected romance finds

its way into Murray’s life in the form of the welfare board

psychologist

who, before she can size up the situation, finds herself without a

job and spending the night.

Director Rando has evidently made a prudent decision

to let the still-slightly green Selleck avoid any problematic clowning

with the script and coax a more cohesive and contemporary attitude

into the action. "A Thousand Clowns" is no longer extended

clowning around a rather somber situation as much as it appears as

a commemoration of the joys of living freely with just a touch of

reckless abandon. Although Rando keeps the actors in motion, they

all seem to be in low gear. With its three acts and two intermissions

the play seems endless.

If Selleck does not "perform" the generally requisite schtick

in the best vaudeville tradition, except in the way he plunks his

ukelele, he refrains from giving a hammy interpretation of a man in

desperate pursuit of self honesty. Barbara Garrick, as Sandra, the

psychologist, isn’t especially convincingly as she crosses the line

from detached, efficient caseworker to free spirit. But then again

it isn’t her fault that the dialogue and situations appear dated

without

being especially funny or sad. A case, though not a very interesting

one, could be made about the lack of any noticeable sexual attraction

between these two oddballs. Where and what is Sandra’s motivation

for getting into Murray’s bed so fast? Even without any apparent

chemistry

between the two, there is the author’s occasionally rib-tickling New

York humor (if you are old enough to go with it) to win our hearts,

and maybe theirs.

Hooray for Nicolas King, as nephew Nick, who managed the remarkable

feat of being strangely appealing, genuinely precocious, and a

world-class

ukelele player as well. Mark Blum, as Leo Herman, alias Chuckles the

Chipmunk, turns his short, but manic, exhibition of man as chipmunk

into a wake-up turn. Bradford Cover, Albert Amundon, Sandra’s uptight

boss, and Robert Lupone, as Murray’s agent and brother are competent,

without any distinguishing efforts. Allen Moyer’s cluttered apartment

set and Arnold’s skyscraper office have a cheap, designed-to-travel

fast look. My female companion was disappointed that Selleck had

shaved

off his mustache, but insisted, nevertheless, that seeing the

still-handsome

hunk in his boxer shorts was worth the price of admission. Two stars.

Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

A Thousand Clowns , Longacre Theater, 220 West 48 Street,

New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $77.50. To

October 14.


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