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'A Thousand Clowns' hits the mark

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By Jennifer Garcia

Bring in the clowns! That was the initial thought when Los Alamos Little Theater’s production of “A Thousand Clowns” was announced.
The image of Bozo taunting coulrophobic adults while holding balloons and sneering was conjured up. Or maybe that was a result of reading Stephen King’s “It.”
At any rate, “A Thousand Clowns” has absolutely nothing to do with clowns, demonic or otherwise.
Set in 1960s New York, Herb Gardner’s production, directed by Richard Klamann and produced by Gracie Cainelli is a sometimes sad, sometimes hysterical (but always entertaining) performance.
Patrick MacDonald plays Murray Burns, a Peter Pan-esque character that refuses to accept the fact that he’s an adult and as such, must abide by certain “rules” set forth by society; such as holding a regular job. Burns has been responsible for caring for his  brainiac nephew Nick (played by Sequoyah Adams-Rice) ever since his sister brought him to Murrary’s for a visit, left for cigarettes and never returned. Well, to say she never returned isn’t exactly fair because she did return a few years later, but only to drop off some of Nick’s items, before she left again for good. Instead of acting like a responsible adult, Murray is more interested in spending his days visiting the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, rather than searching for a job.
But things weren’t always like that. Murray once had a job on a children’s television show, working with Leo Herman aka Chuckles the Chipmunk (played by Warren Houghteling). Too much time with children and the over-zealous chipmunk led Murray to quit his job, landing him in the unemployment line.
Content with collecting unemployment benefits, Murray becomes a man of leisure. That is, until Nick writes a paper on the benefits of unemployment insurance. It’s the paper that piques the interest of Albert Amundson (Jim Sicilian) and his girlfriend/co-worker Sandra Markowitz (Roxanne Tapia). The duo from Nick’s school for gifted children decide to open a case on Murray and Nick and visit their home as part of their investigation.
Murray pulls no punches with Amundson and Markowitz. He hides nothing and lets the couple know that he is a man who refuses to conform. Nick, being the clever child he is, realizes that his future with uncle Murray may be in jeopardy, so he turns on the charm for Amundson and Markowitz, telling them that he and his uncle play many educational games and have a lot of fun together. He then brings out “Bubbles,” much to the shock of Amundson and Markowitz. Let’s just say “Bubbles” isn’t what you’d expect in a children’s “toy.”
As the interview progresses, Markowitz finds herself at odds with Amundson. After a couple of arguments in Murray’s one-room apartment, Amundson leaves Markowitz and heads to his next appointment in Queens.
Following the spat, Markowitz cries on Murray’s shoulder, telling him that she is unhappy with her current situation. She seems to realize that she’d rather be carefree like him, instead of stuck in a job that she doesn’t care for.
One thing leads to another and Markowitz finds herself getting cozy with Murray. After a day of sightseeing, Markowitz decides to stay a while. Used to his uncle bringing “friends” home, Nick sees the writing on the wall and decides to spend the night at the neighbor’s house. Little does he know, Markowitz is in for the long haul and he and Murray will soon have a new roommate. She promptly decides to add a feminine touch to the manly array of clocks, eagles and assorted knick-knacks that adorn the apartment, adding Pepto-Bismol-pink floral curtains to the windows, a pink vase to the table and a pink table cloth to match. When she’s finished, the room looks like an Easter bunny spewed pastel sick all over it.
Markowitz convinces Murray that his situation is serious and as a remedy, he must find a job to show child services that he is responsible. The situation is escalated when Amundson returns, looking for Markowitz, and informs Murray that child protective services intends to remove Nick from the home.
Realizing the severity of the situation, Murray engages the help of his agent brother Arnold Burns (John Gustafson), who helps him look for a job. Despite his best efforts, Murray always finds fault with the employment opportunities and begins to think that Nick being removed might be the best solution. As a last-ditch effort, Arnold contacts Leo, hoping that he and Murray can reconnect. While Leo is more than willing to work with Murray once again, it’s Murray that has reservations about the arrangement. The thought of having to deal with the loud-mouth Leo makes him cringe.
MacDonald, as Murray, conveys a devil-may-care attitude well. His constant sneering, heavy sighing and eye rolling brings out Murray’s juvenile personality. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Murray was a teen rather than a grown man.
Though he doesn’t keep his clothes scattered about his room like a teen would, he does keep them in a file cabinet. His “uniform” consists of khaki pants, white muscle shirt and Hawaiian-type shirt. He’s constantly aloof and dismisses any talk of finding a job, when confronted by Nick.
In fact, Nick is way more mature than he should be for a 12-year-old boy. He’s incredibly smart and knows what should be prioritized in his daily life. Adams-Rice is a perfect fit for this role. Acting seems to come easy to him. Maybe it’s because he’s really 12-years-old, just like Nick. Or maybe it’s because he’s been involved in theater for six years. Whatever the reason, his dialogue is clear and seemingly error free. He brings Nick to life in a way that both children and adults can relate to.
A LALT veteran, Tapia’s character is also believable. Caught between wanting to have a career and be carefree, Markowitz struggles with doing what’s expected and doing what she wants. Tapia’s performance, like MacDonald’s and Adams-Rice’s was flawless and believable. She makes her character’s internal struggles evident and one feels a pang of sympathy for the young lady.
Despite the fine job the cast did, a favorite was definitely Houghteling as Leo Herman. The loud mouth New Yorker shines through in Houghteling’s character. His New York accent was consistent and despite his brash demeanor, Herman is a big ‘ol softie. He’s kind of  like Ralph Kramden from the “Honeymooners.” He talks a lot, he’s loud, forgetful and over-the-top, but then what would you expect from someone who plays Chuckles the Chipmunk on a children’s show? He also constantly reminds Murray about the “finks, dwarves, phonies and frauds” that occupy the world.
Both Sicilian and Gustafson, despite their smaller parts, brought their characters to life, as well. Sicilian as Amundson was no-nonsense, often trying to steer Markowitz in the right direction and not allow her to get personally involved in the cases they investigated. His character was a bit cold and all business.
Gustafson portrayed Arnold as a caring brother, trying to help his sibling out of a difficult situation. Despite Murray’s snide comments, Arnold ignores his brother’s attitude and still tries to help — like any good sibling would.
The set was simple and very well put together. It really looked like a studio apartment. The actors were all consistent and never broke character, despite a mishap with a music cue. A snippet began playing in the middle of a dialogue, but was quickly turned off. The actors didn’t seem to notice and kept on, as if nothing had happened.
The lighting was good, the sound was also on par. There were random chuckles from the audience, which were indicative of a good show.
All in all “A Thousand Clowns” was a solid production. Though it’s presented in an entertaining way, the struggle between conformity and non-conformity is evident in the storyline. Murray struggles with choosing between what he wants to do and what’s right. And who can’t relate to that in one way or another?