by Gail Burns and Larry Murray
Larry Murray: The Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge seems to be the preferred venue for comedies at the Berkshire Theatre Group, and with A Thousand Clowns they made that cranky old stage do a few new tricks, like a revolving set, changing from the New York apartment of Murray Burns (CJ Wilson) to the office of his brother, Arnold Burns (Andrew Polk). Last year we saw Sylvia on the same stage, with Rachel Bay Jones playing the dog in A.R. Gurney’s comedy. Here she plays Sandra Markowitz, the ditsy psychologist checking up on Murray, a comedy writer who has chosen to be unemployed rather than continue writing soul-sucking crap for the Chuckles the Chipmunk children’s TV show, and his young nephew Nick, played by Russell Posner.
What did you think of the cast, were they all reading from the same page, and did they mesh? I felt that they were all pretty individualistic, not completely blending together as a whole. And I think that might be just what the playwright Herb Gardner was trying to demonstrate, that you can be different and still get along.
Gail Burns: This is a play about individuals and individuality, so that didn’t bother me. I did wish that Wilson, Polk, and Posner, playing two brothers and their sister’s child, looked more plausibily like genetic relations.
But I thought it was not just the stage that was old here. I found A Thousand Clowns dated in both style and form. The fairly elderly audience we attended with got the laughs, but I think it would be inscrutably dull to a young crowd.
Larry: A Thousand Clowns ran on Broadway from April 1962 to April 1963. We were just leaving the beatnik era but were still a long way to the hippie days that were coming. Conformity was still in, and things like expressing non-mainstream thoughts were courting isolation, while divorce and one night stands were stuff of scandals and could even cost you your job. Of course all this went on, but in the dark, and whispers were the currency of gossip. Anyone born after the Eisenhower era (1953-1961) has no idea what a repressive, sexist, racist, homophobic nation we were when this play was on Broadway. The idea of an unemployed, free-thinking uncle raising his sister’s born-out-of wedlock-kid to think for himself was pretty scandalous. Keeping the times in which it was written in mind, this play was probably fairly revolutionary, and the way they introduced new ideas back then was to make people laugh first, the lesson followed.