KPBS AIRDATE: July 6, 1994
We’ve had theater in a storefront, in a shopping mall, in a warehouse; why not in a business park? It’s awfully serious in Sorrento Valley; the area could use a little comic relief. Fundraiser to the rescue! A high-quality, independent production of “A Thousand Clowns” is being staged this month at the offices of Circus Earth Foundation. That group, along with the Center for Nonviolent Communication, will use the proceeds to provide “Compassionate Communication” workshops in war-torn Israel, Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia.
Herb Gardner’s comic chestnut still has lots of laughs and one of the most endearingly precocious kids around. But in these days of downsizing, voluntary unemployment is a little less funny than it was in 1962. Not that many people — writers or anyone else — can afford to make a statement about integrity and nonconformity by staying home and enjoying every day to its fullest.
And yet, there is discomforting truth in what TV-writer/dropout Murray Burns has to say. The New York Bureau of Child Welfare just doesn’t seem to think so, and they’re coming at him with bulging eyes and equally bulging dossiers, to try to take away the 12 year-old nephew who’s in his charge. So, young Nick writes school essays on “The Advantages of Unemployment Insurance” and talks about his trip to the El Bambino Club for show and tell. He also does a great Peter Lorrey imitation, and plays a mean ukulele rendition of “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.”
He learned it all from his incorrigible uncle, a man who refuses to grow up, straighten up or suit up for the grey, pinstriped world. When his interminable teasing forces the button-down welfare folks to beg him to return to reality, he insists that he “will only go as a tourist.” He and Nick do battle with the bureaucracy, and it’s a fight to the finish. Though it may be a little bit frayed, the play endures as good comedy, because it touches the funny bone and a bit of raw nerve.
In the high-spirited role of Murray, Punit Auerbacher plays up the darker underside of the character. He’s lively and likable, but not as light as he should be. (As a theatrical aside: This talented actor is following in the career footsteps of Jason Robards, Jr. First, “A Moon for the Misbegotten” at OctadOne. And now, “A Thousand Clowns.” Can “A Long Day’s Journey” be far behind?) Meanwhile, back in Sorrento Valley, both Margaret Miller and John Steed improve considerably after their first deadly scene as the tight-assed welfare workers. Matthew Reidy is a howl-and-a- half as the frenetically insecure Leo, and 12 year-old Todd Jones is a too-tall but terrific 12 year-old Nick.
Director Susan Stratton keeps up a vigorous and dynamic pace; the evening fairly flies by. For some good laughs, for a good cause, I’d send in “A Thousand Clowns.”
And for a good, hearty theatrical think, try to catch the peripatetic “Lily” this weekend. A one-woman play written for Bryna Weiss by Hindi Brooks, the piece takes place in Israel, where a chatty, charming woman pours tea and talks about her life — from her narrow escape from the Nazis in Poland to her illegal immigration to Palestine, and, gas mask in hand, she gives us up-to-the-second accounts of Gulf War scud missile attacks.
The one-hour play is very poignant, funny at times, a testimony to spirit and survival. Weiss is delightful. We feel privileged to have been invited into her living room. With all her globe-trotting, who knows when she’ll be back? Try to visit with her this weekend at the East County Jewish Community Center. It’s a bittersweet experience that brings a half-century of wartime to a very personal level.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.