A Thousand Clowns | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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A Thousand Clowns

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A THOUSAND CLOWNS, Shubert Theatre. It's refreshing to see a witty, intelligent play in a commercial Loop theater. And Herb Gardner's satire of conformity and dehumanization--a Broadway hit in 1962--still resonates (a running gag about an automated telephone "weather lady" rings loud and clear in this era of voice mail vortices).

But director John Rando's New York-bound touring revival falls short, especially when compared to the brilliant 1965 film version starring Jason Robards and Second City great Barbara Harris. Gardner's bittersweet comedy concerns Murray Burns, who quits his job scripting the TV kiddie show "Chuckles the Chipmunk" to become a chronically unemployed urban beach bum. Murray's rejection of responsibility endangers his relationship with the precocious ten-year-old nephew who lives with him; it also threatens his budding romance with a sensitive social worker, Sandra, who knows that Murray's appealing nonconformism must be tempered by pragmatism.

Because Tom Selleck's strong suit as the star of TV's Magnum, P.I. was his playful, boyish charm, his curmudgeonly, misanthropic portrayal of Murray is especially disappointing. Equally bothersome is Selleck's almost total lack of connection to his fellow players (the best of whom is Mark Blum as the egomaniacal yet insecure Chuckles). And Rando's perversely dark interpretation of Murray's decision to compromise his independence for the sake of his loved ones makes that choice come off as a grim defeat, undermining the script's inherent poignance and quirky humor.

--Albert Williams

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