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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Herb Gardener's A Thousand Clowns
Gets a First Rate Production

Also see Richard's review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Finn in the Underworld

A Thousand Clowns
Ben Colteaux and Nick Daunt
The Marin Classic Theatre is back on the boards again in their new location, the jewel boxed Belrose Theatre in San Rafael, with Herb Gardner's 1962 classy comedy A Thousand Clowns playing through October 30th.  I saw the original performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre during the summer of 1962 with Jason Robards as Murray and Barry Gordon as the bright boy Nick.  Sandy Dennis, William Daniels and Gene Saks were the supporting players.  Ms. Dennis won a Featured Tony for her performance. The production ran 428 performances.   The same cast with the exception of Ms. Dennis (Barbara Harris took her place) did the United Artist film in 1965.

Roundabout presented a revival in 1996 with Judd Hirsch playing Murray and Dov Tiefenbach playing the kid but it lasted only 32 performances.  Tom Selleck tried his hand as Murray in 2001 but the reviews were negative and the production lasted only 83 performances at the Longacre Theatre. Nicholas King played the 12 year old boy.

A Thousand Clowns seems schmaltzy but it is still adorable and fun to watch the antics of the kooky iconoclast Murray (Ben Colteaux) and his 12-year-old "man-child" nephew Nick (Nick Daunt).   Murray, a former gag writer who wrote for TV's Chuckles the Chipmunk (Stephen Dietz) is now unemployed. He has been raising his nephew since the boy was abandoned six years earlier.  Nick is one strange child who writes essays on the rewards of unemployment insurance; his favorite toy is a hula dancer doll with flashing lights on the breasts.

Social workers Sandra (Jennifer Winter) and Albert (Justin Waggle) come to visit Murray and his nephew in their one room apartment above a former Chinese restaurant in mid-Manhattan to see if the child is being raised properly.  Sandra melts for the charms of Murray, and romance blooms.  She moves in and redecorates the apartment hoping that Murray will grow up and get a job so he can continue custody of Nick. That's the story in a nutshell. Of course there are problems along the way due to the nonconformist attitude of Murray.  Some of the things he does probably could institutionalize him in a state hospital but the playwright makes him a fascinating eccentric character.

Ben Colteaux has a certain wonderful charm in his portrayal of Murray.  He is very skillful in the performance as an unconventional but good hearted fellow. Drake High School freshman Nick Burns is a natural for the young "adult."  He is not as precocious as some of the child actors I have seen playing this role.  He is more a worry wart and it works just fine with this young man. His comic timing is nicely in sync with Colteaux's great delivery.

Supporting roles are excellently played, especially Richard Howell as Murray's brother, who gives a great soliloquy about the realism of life. It's a first rate performance.  Jennifer Winters is good in her role as the girlfriend and Justin Waggle is properly staid in his performance as the by-the-book social worker Albert.  Stephen Dietz gets his moment to shine in the second act as Leo Herman, aka "Chuckles."  He is one pathetic figure and Herman plays the role to the hilt.

Set designs by Jack Beuttler and Zeya Wagner are well done on the tiny stage of the small house.  There is the appearance of an apartment in disarray. Billie Cox has done a nice job in directing this charming play.

A Thousand Clowns plays the Belrose Theatre, 1415 5th Ave, San Rafael, CA through October 30th.  For tickets please call 415-721-4410 or visit www.mctheatre.com.  Their next production will be House of Blue Leaves later in the season.


Photo: Kim Taylor


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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