At the Opening Night of A Thousand Clowns

News   At the Opening Night of A Thousand Clowns
 
Judd Hirsch found himself July 14 back where he started his professional acting career 32 years ago--starring in Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns.

Judd Hirsch found himself July 14 back where he started his professional acting career 32 years ago--starring in Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns.

Then it was summer stock; now it is the Roundabout revival on Broadway. In the interim he has racked up two Tony Awards by finessing the words of Herb Gardner (I'm Not Rappaport and Conversations With My Father), and the playwright is said to have pushed for the actor when Off-Broadway's Below the Belt went below the break-even line and he suddenly became available.

There's a world of difference between the two Thousand Clowns, Hirsch conceded. "The first time I did it, I wasn't even conscious. I was dissatisfied not getting the part I wanted to get. I came in with all the expectations of playing Chuckles the Chipmunk, and the director suggest I try for Murray Burns. I said, 'Aw, c'mon. He's very straight.' What did I know? They said, 'No, he's a little bit crazy.' So I went ahead and played the guy."

The new production is notable for an outstanding Chuckles the Chipmunk (a TV kiddie-show host who doesn't "get along too well with kids"). A towering John Procaccino takes the third act off with him in the role, and even this early in the season Tony nominators are duly noting him. "My friend John plays anything we want him to play," says Hirsch, "mostly tall people."

One sad footnote to Clowns: The only people who won awards for the show--Sandy Dennis on stage, Martin Balsam on film -- are the only ones who've died. The Roundabout's opening-night audience for the show seemed stacked with actors who'd done time on its stage. Boyd Gaines, a two-time Tony winner for She Loves Me and The Heidi Chronicles, and Ann Pitoniak, a two-time Tony nominee for 'Night, Mother and Picnic, sat next to each other and did injured-"kneesies": He had just had knee surgery, and she had two knee replacements. "I didn't bring my cane," he said, "so we use the same cane."

And, no, he didn't get any hate mail for the winsome Nazi he just played in Cynthia Ozick's The Shawl. "I got consistently booed," he admits, "but people would actually wait for me after the show to say, 'We weren't booing you. We were booing the character you played. I thought that was nice."

Pitoniak, despite the knee replacements, was positively beaming--and with cause: "I did a film on Friday--first time I've worked in 15 months--The Tears of Julian Poe, with a bunch of New York actors like Cherry Jones and Harve Presnell. That was fun, so I hope to get back to working again."

Debra Monk, herself a Tony nominee for Picnic (and a Tony winner for Redwood Curtain), is in the throes of a second Kander & Ebb workshop of the season--Steel Pier, which followed The Skin of Our Teeth. She played Mrs. Antrobus in the latter so she couldn't help gushing about Greg Gerrman, who played her son in that reading. It seems the actor just turned, impressively, playwright with an opus in this year's Ensemble Studio Theatre play marathon.

Peter Frechette, a Tony contender for Our Country's Good and Eastern Standard, sat with his Raised in Captivity author and director, Nicky Silver and David Warren. The latter two are gearing up to take it from the top again--Fit To Be Tied next month at Playwrights Horizons--but it will be without Frechette. "I'm getting out of credit-card debt," quipped the actor. He's doing this by heading West--almost immediately--to begin a series called "Profiler," which will aired over NBC on Saturday nights begining this fall.

Another New York stage actor headed for L.A. and film--"L.A. Confidential," specifically--is Ron Rifkin, who was to make The Ride to Mt. Morgan up at Williamstown until "this movie came along." F. Murray Abraham rode instead.

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