The Tough Middle

    Tom Quinn (the Artistic Director of Montgomery Theatre) and I have been friends since the early nineties.  And given our mutual love of classic American plays like A Thousand Clowns many people might mistakenly think we're both IN our early nineties (full disclosure: Tom's a lot closer to that age than I am!).  But I stand by my loves, and am glad TQ does as well. 

          If you do too, you might be surprised to know that there are some in the professional theatre who don't share a deep love for the classics, or - often - anything other than new work.  These folks might applaud a classic done well, but tend to believe that nothing is as important as a new play with a message "of the now."  To be sure, I too like new work (in fact I’ve been lucky enough to be in - and even write - a few world premieres; and as a sometime stand-up and politics junkie I have a fascination with "the now")  but I have always felt much more strongly that in theatre the medium is the message, and as such a tried and true classic like A Thousand Clowns  suits me just as well as anything written today. 

          Plus a classic play - like a classic poem, a classic painting, a classic song – can speak to us in different ways over the years. And the inherent familiarity of a classic play can also serve as a kind of comfort food for our souls.  And A Thousand Clowns is this type of soul food.  One big reason it’s lasted as long as it has is because A Thousand Clowns doesn't neatly fit a category: it's hard to define it as either a comedy or a drama, since it's really both.  And as Jack Lemmon said, "It's hard enough to write a good drama, it's much harder to write a good comedy, and it's hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is."  And as a good friend of mine, a Jesuit priest, once said: “Sometimes theater is about trying to escape from the darker corners of the human condition. Sometimes it’s about trying to hide in the comforting folds of the skirt of the human condition. Sometimes it’s about the tough middle where most of us spend most of our lives, where some things are good and calm and even funny, and others are bad and stormy and sad. Theater is about all of that because being human is about all of that." 

         A Thousand Clowns is about all of that.  It plops us right down in the tough middle of the life of Murray Burns and his nephew Nick.  It explores things like how best to raise a child, what it means to be a family, or how to navigate the many facets of an integrated personality.  Classic human issues.  In A Thousand Clowns some things are good and calm and even funny – hopefully very funny at times! - and others are bad and stormy and sad.  And seeing a classic show like that is comfort food for our souls. 

~Tony Braithwaite

A Conversation with THE PHILLY FAN'S Tom McCarthy

Montgomery Theater is currently playing host to Tom McCarthy’s The Philly Fan. The one-man show is a comical love...

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