By Petrina Huston
Special to the Rappahannock News
My name is Petrina Huston and I am directing A Thousand Clowns at the RAAC Theater. I have never written an article before. I have written many emails, so I thought I’d try this. I was told I could write about anything having to do with the play.
I saw A Thousand Clowns with my family at The National Theater in DC in 1962 right before it went on to Broadway. I was 12, the same age as the little boy, Nick, in the play. Jason Robards and Sandy Dennis starred in it.
What I remember most is that I laughed a lot, and that I had never before seen an actress like Sandy Dennis. Her performance was so funny and poignant and nuanced (not a word I knew at the time) she opened my eyes to different possibilities as an actor. I could talk about her for hours, but that won’t tell you much about this production of A Thousand Clowns.
A couple of years ago, I met a boy while helping his school with a Shakespeare production. He was 13 and shorter than me, which is short. While working with him, I remembered A Thousand Clowns, and really wanted to direct it in our theater with him playing the boy, Nick. By the time the opportunity came for me to direct, the boy had grown. and grown. He is now well over a foot taller than me, and still growing. His voice is deep. I will find a tall part for him in the future.
So, a slot opened up for me to direct this spring, and I knew just who I wanted to cast in the part of Nick, if he wanted to play it. I gave his parents a copy of the film, made in 1965, and asked them if they thought it was appropriate. They all watched it and laughed; and the boy wanted to play Nick. This young man is Rappahannock raised, on a farm, going to grade school. I have worked with him in several Christmas plays. I have known his parents for many years; they are vendors at the Takoma Park Farmers Market, in Maryland where I lived. I held this boy when he was an infant.
Have you guessed who he is? Nicholas Plaksin! Son of Rachel Bynum and Eric Plaksin, big brother to Isaac, from Waterpenny Farm. Wait until you see our homegrown boy playing a New York genius. I promise you will be delighted.
The rest of the cast fell into place, with Bob Hurley playing the mammoth part of Murray Burns, Scott McMurtray as Leo Herman (Chuckles the Chipmunk); Mike Mahoney as Arnold, Murray’s older brother; Larry Finkel as Albert Amundson the social worker; and lastly Patty Hardee as the charming Sandy Markowitz. Please don’t be confused, Patty played Sandy (the dog) in Annie a few Christmases ago. In A Thousand Clowns, she speaks Queens English, not “The Queens English,” New York Queens English. and not “Arf” as she did in Annie. A very versatile actress, that Patty.
Speaking of versatile, Yoko Barsky designed the set (no small feat to squeeze a huge Broadway production onto our tiny jewel box stage), designed the poster, made props, stage managed, and held the director’s hand.
Ron Makela has offered many creative solutions to our set, and built a wonderful home for our play. Cynthia Stamps, an incredible artist and drum player, has added her color and design expertise, and a beautiful window onto New York. And Geoff Gowen, with his love and knowledge of music, has set the mood for this wonderful slice of 1962 in NYC.
Please join us for a jam-packed evening of old fashioned laughter( (and a few tears). You’ll have fun; almost as much fun as I’ve had directing A Thousand Clowns.
See ya at the theater. A Thousand Clowns, May 11 and 12 at 8 p.m., May 13 at 3 p.m. RAAC Community Theatre, 310 Gay Street, Washington, VA. Admission is $15. Make reservations at www.raac.org/theatre.html. If without internet, call 1-800-695-6075.