Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"A Thousand Clowns" -- Reviewed!

Xander Dake and Will Dennis in A Thousand Clowns (Photo by Angela McMichael)

Check out Wendy Rosenfield's review of Montgomery Theater's latest production: A Thousand Clowns (by Herb Gardner)! Full text of the review is below. You can go to the original post here (mobile.philly.com).

'A Thousand Clowns' rewards the time travel

Wendy Rosenfield  

Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns is an odd choice for a revival. It's not particularly relevant, and its "work is for squares" credo held more weight back when the American Dream signified middle-class mass uniformity and there was enough of a middle class to include the masses. But, mostly due to its success as a 1965 film starring Jason Robards as Murray Burns, unemployed comic TV writer and default foster dad to nephew Nick, there's still an audience with a fondness for this sort-of romantic sort-of comedy.

Will Dennis' Murray leans closer to Richard Dreyfuss than Robards, but it's a sympathetic portrayal, and his small stature and vulnerability soften some of his more vitriolic speeches. Director Tony Braithwaite - who also indulges a gangbusters turn as plaid-suited Leo Herman, Murray's erstwhile employer and host of a children's show in which Leo appears as an unappealing, unfunny chipmunk - keeps a tight rein on the cast, so that even the silliest scenes remain crisp.

Investigated by child protection services, Murray becomes entangled with his nephew's psychologist/caseworker Sandra Markowitz. Jessica Bedford gives the role a slight New Yawk accent and attitude. She's no pushover, but she's plenty mercurial, and Bedford's kindnesses, between whiplash laughing and crying, make Murray's nearly immediate handover of his apartment key at least a little credible.

However, Xander Dake's Nick Burns, a no-nonsense 12-year-old caught between the childish uncle he adores and the authority figures that uncle abhors, embodies what's at stake here, and does so without relying on any of the cutesy tics so common to child actors, not even when he's singing a "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" duet with Murray. He's the child-man to Murray's man-child, less carefree and clearer-headed than everyone else, with a matter-of-fact tone that stresses gravity rather than condescension.

Watching Gardner's time capsule, it's hard not to feel sentimental about the days when a guy without a job could still rent an apartment, raise a kid, and send him to a good Manhattan school. And when Murray makes a daily call to the weather recording on his rotary phone, I, for one, immediately remembered Philly's WE6-1212, a number I haven't thought of for at least 30 years (spoiler: it's no longer in service). There's a comfort in this nostalgia, and while that's not the reason I go to the theater, sometimes small surprises like these make the journey backward worthwhile.

A Thousand Clowns

Through July 13 at Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. Tickets: $27-$35 215-723-9984 or www.MontgomeryTheater.org.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20140624__A_Thousand_Clowns__rewards_the_time_travel.html#sjuzLTJwZZR75rfL.99

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