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A Thousand Clowns

By Alwyn Mathers

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The Norris Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates is currently offering its production of Herb Gardner's award-winning play, "A Thousand Clowns".  The production is an all-around delight, featuring fine performances by an excellent cast.

The play, set in 1962 Manhattan, revolves around the life of Murray Burns (Jeff Conaway), an unemployed author, who recently quit his job as head writer for the children's television personality, "Chuckles The Chipmunk" a.k.a. Leo (Michael Dean Jacobs).  His 12 year old nephew, Nick (Austin Rogers) lives with him, and as Murray has shown negligible interest in finding further employment, an investigation by the Child Welfare Bureau ensues.  The scenes between Murray and Nick are alternately touching and wonderfully funny, forming the heart of the show.

Into the mix enters Sandra (Constance Forslund) as one of the two social workers assigned to investigate Murray and Nick's unorthodox living arrangement.  A romance between Murray and Sandra brews, despite her romantic attachment to her boss/co-worker, Albert (Gordon Goodman), and Murray's habitual womanizing.  Murray's successful brother, Arnold (Greg Mullavey), who also acts as Murray's agent, tries to find employment for him, a difficult task, as Murray is nothing if not an extremely volatile wit, and he's unwilling to conform.  The crux of the play is whether Murray can compromise his independence in order to keep custody of Nick, and whether he can allow himself to acknowledge his love for Sandra.  While this all may sound dramatic, and it is, laughter abounds in Gardner's brilliant script, and the cast proves wonderfully adept at the physical comedy, as well as the more subtle, almost painful (at times) humour.

As Murray, Conaway brings to life the pathos and inner torment of his character, as evidenced in his superb "I'm sorry" speech to Sandra--and the world, while maintaining an affecting and multi-faceted relationship with Nick.  For his part, Austin Rogers as Nick, is a natural, with a marvelously expressive face, and enough charisma to fill the Norris Theatre's 400+ seat house.  Constance Forslund is charming, and her relationship with Murray is moving and humorous.  Greg Mullavey is a gem, at first sweet and plaintive, building to an emotional breakthrough that's truly vibrant.  Gordon Goodman is terrifically funny, and Michael Dean Jacobs has a sublime turn as Leo, a comedic tornado, leaving a broken yet utterly hopeful household in his wake.

Tracy Strickfaden directs with a sure hand, creating an exquisite evening of theatre.  A Thousand Clowns plays through Saturday, February 5th at the Norris Center For The Performing Arts (310) 544-0403.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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