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A Thousand Frowns

After having paid double the price of admission to a movie, it's a wonder that some of the Denver Victorian Playhouse's patrons don't object to their view of the stage being blocked by a large metal support pole or the night's entertainment being compromised by a series of clearly amateur...
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After having paid double the price of admission to a movie, it's a wonder that some of the Denver Victorian Playhouse's patrons don't object to their view of the stage being blocked by a large metal support pole or the night's entertainment being compromised by a series of clearly amateur theatrics. But at a recent performance of Herb Gardner's comedy, A Thousand Clowns, most of the Victorian's theatergoers seemed perfectly content to tolerate a slew of mishaps that included muffed and mangled lines, botched sound effects and the awkwardly improvised moments that followed and, in some cases, sketchy and stereotypical portrayals.

Maybe the audience members' collective indulgence was due to the fact that the game performers imbue their work with an ingratiating, if not always infectious, enthusiasm. Spectators might also be drawn to the relevant social message and the urban-style charm that underscore Gardner's 1962 play, which ran for 428 performances on Broadway and was later made into a successful film starring Jason Robards and Martin Balsam. After all, it's hard not to sympathize with a guy like Murray Burns (Michael Parker), a down-on-his-luck comedian who drops back into society in order to take care of his abandoned adolescent nephew, Nick Burns (Brendan Monahan) and win the approval of his newfound love, Sandra Markowitz (Lisa M. Beinetti). And it's occasionally amusing to watch Murray react to the well-meaning prodding of his brother, Arnold (Tony Catanese), the bureaucratic bungling of a humorless social worker, Albert Amundson (Jack Wilkins), and the braying and belly-flopping of an egomaniacal television star, Leo Herman (Kevin Monahan).

Whatever the reason, most in the opening-night audience seemed willing to ignore and even laugh off the fledgling performers' glaring inconsistencies. Despite the fact that much of what happens in director Mary Lynn Green's two-and-a-half-hour production is predictable and soporific, the actors somehow manage to communicate the play's enduring message: Laughing in the face of disaster is usually the best--and sometimes the only--way to summon one's basic survival instincts.

--Lillie

A Thousand Clowns, presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse, 4201 Hooker Street, through February 27, 303-433-4343.

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