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
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
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
— 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
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
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
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
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
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
off his mustache, but insisted, nevertheless, that seeing the
hunk in his boxer shorts was worth the price of admission. Two stars.
Maybe you should have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $77.50. To
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.