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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
A Thousand Clowns

"Five months ago I was on the subway on my way to work, was sitting on the express same as every morning looking out the window watching the local stops go by in the dark with an empty head and my arms folded, not feeling great, not feeling rotten, just not feeling. And for a minute I couldn't remember, I didn't know, unless I really concentrated, whether it was a Tuesday or a Thursday or a . . . for a minute it could have been any day, Arn. .I gotta know what day it is. I gotta know what's the name of the game and what the rules are without anyone else telling me. You gotta own your own days and name 'em, each one of 'em, every one of 'em, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you. And that ain't just for weekends, kiddo." Murray Burns to his more pragmatic brother Arnold,
Russell Posner and CJ Wilson
(Photo credit: Chris Reis)
There's genuine brotherly love between the brothers Burns — that's nose-to-the-grindstone, businessman, responsible family man Arnold and Peter Pan-esque Murray whose personal national holiday is the birthday of his favorite holiday is the birthday of Irving R. Feldman the proprietor of his neighborhood kosher delicatessen proprietor. But Arn is at the end of his rope with his efforts to make Murray realize that if he doesn't abandon his teen-aged approach to life his eleven-year-old nephew Nick will be put into foster care.

While the iconoclastic Murray is the central character in Herb Gardner's 1962 A Thousand Clown, it's young Nick, the third Burns, who is the star of the Berkshire Theatre Group's revival. Plays that importantly feature talented kid actors, are always risky for their adult colleagues. The five-year-old literally left on Murray's doorstep has always been a scene stealer, the name indelibly linked to this first Gardner play (I'm Not Rappaport was his biggest hit), it is Jason Robards, who created the madcap Murray on stage and again on screen. . While Nicolas King's Nick stole plenty of scenes and Tom Selleck wasn't quite as nuanced a Murray as Robards, it was his sexy, easygoing charm and star power that dominated the 2001 Broadway revival.

C. W. Wilson, though a well credentialed actor has a somewhat harder time making the audience buy into and love the lovable nonconformist who's been unemployed since quitting his job as head writer for a children show he detests but finds himself forced to choose between social conformity and responsible adulthood. As directed by Kyle Fabel and performed by Wilson, the anger simmering beneath the disarmingly nutty scamp persona is more evident and makes Murray not quite such an irresistible charmer.

That's not to say that Wilson is horribly miscast, especially since he does get hold of Murray during by the time Murray is ready to leave Neverland in order not to abandon his better self or Nick and even earlier, when he and Nick pull out their ukelales to perform their favorite song, "Yes Sir, Thatís My Baby" for the uptight sociel worker, Albert Amundson (James Barry) amd his overly, warm-hearted assistant Sandra Markowitz (Rachel Bay Jones). Nor does my singling out Posner as this production's star, mean that the rest of the ensemble isn't excellent. Ms. Jones who seems to be channeling Sandy Dennis, the original prim and proper social worker who falls madly and compassionately in love with Murray and Nick, does so very well indeed — and is especially good with some of the morning after physical shtick. James Barry, who has been an outstanding company regular, mostly in dramatic roles, proves himself most apt in the more comic role of Albert Amundson, the stand-in for the facts and nothing but the facts social services system.

Andrew Polk is just fine as well-meaning but frustrated brother Arnold. Jordan Gelber is delightfully odious as the unfunny comedian whose show Murray quit and whose late om tje [;au appearance at the Burns apartment brings the things to a hilarious and ultimately heart-tugging climax.

The fact that Russell Posner runs away with top honors is helped by his character having the best and funniest lines. His role as one of two teen aged brothers temporarily left in the dictatorial care of their sour grandmother in last season's terrific revival of Neil Simon's Lost In Yonkers by the TACT company was good preparation for his portraying another kid with lots of moxie. Nick is happier with his happy-go-lucky uncle than Jay was with his autocratic grandmother, even though that relationship has forced him to be the more sensible grown-up. Posner is again a winning combination of smart alecky wit and insecurity, as evidenced by his constantly trying out new names and nudging his uncle to find a job.

While this production overall looks good and was amazingly well written comedy with serious undertones in its day, especially considering that the playwright was in his twenties, it is dated. . Living as we do in a time when voluntary unemployment is hardly a choice too many people suffering from long-term layoffs could understand or find amusing. Social agencies that are unable to do anything for homeless families, would hardly have the resources to concern themselves with Nick. That said, if this were real life instead of a half century old play, I'd say, if things don't turn out with Uncle Murray's return to work, I'd be happy to pull out the convertible in my spare room for a long visit from Posner's Nick any day. Hopefully, I'll see him in another play soon instead.

A Thousand Clowns by Herb Gardner
Directed by Kyle Fabel

Cast: CJ Wilson (Murray Burns), Russell Posner(Nick Burns), James Barry (Albert Amundson), Rachel Bay Jones(Sandra Markowitz), Andrew Polk(Arnold Burns), Jordan Glber(Leo Herman).
Set Design: Randall Parsons
Costume Design: Olivera Gajic
Lighting Design: Dan Kotlowitz
Sound Design: J Hagenbuckle
Stage Manager: Laura Wilson Running Time: 2 1/2 hours including 1 intermissions
Berkshire Theatre Group Main Stage
7/ 16/12- 7/28/12 opening 7/21/12
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 7/21 press opening
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