Spotlight: A Thousand Clowns


Herb Gardner's 1962 play, presented here as a tight two-act, doesn't exactly electrify on the basis of its thematic conflict: Is it better to sell out to the man or maintain one's bohemian free spirit? Here in 2007, I know plenty of people willing to sell out. They're just looking for buyers. The set-up sees Murray (Bob Davis) living in a fairly squalid New York bachelor pad with his nephew Nick (Andrew Lentz). Murray has recently quit a lucrative TV writing gig for the Chuckles the Chipmunk Show, which apparently required him to make all sorts of artistic and personal compromises. Resplendent in his indolent unemployment, Murray falls out of the figurative hammock with the arrival of two social workers. Albert (John Middleton) is the pinched, prissy straight man; Sandra (Stacia Rice) is all earnest innocence with an itch transparently in need of scratching. It turns out that, after Murray took on the care of his nephew from his even more outrageously bohemian sister, he failed to adopt the lad. Now, in light of his lack of gainful employment and general lassitude, he will lose Nick to the system unless he gets a job by the end of the week. The machinations that follow wheeze with dramatic convention, but director Peter Moore's cast sells the thing with professional brio. Davis fixes the audience's attention as a guy who, beneath his constant flow of witticisms and irreverence, essentially hates the world. Jim Pounds is a nice surprise as Murray's brother and agent Arnold, lending dignity and thoughtfulness to a character whose main insight into existence is that going with the flow is easier than going against it. The show receives a major energy infusion when Chuckles himself turns up at the door in his civilian guise as Leo (Zach Curtis). Curtis (channeling Krusty?) throws off waves of rage, insecurity, and self-loathing, along with flashes of stark self-awareness. The show ends with a muted endorsement of an off-kilter form of conventionality—not exactly a shocker. But Davis's blandly warm smile before the lights go down speaks volumes about the trade-offs family life entails, in the period of this piece or any other.