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World madness calls for ‘Dr. Strangelove’

Tim Kazurinsky

Tim Kazurinsky

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‘Dr. Strangelove’

♦ 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18

♦ S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston

♦ Tickets, $15-$18

♦ (847) 492-8860;

Updated: March 16, 2013 6:12AM

There weren’t a lot of people joking about nuclear war in 1964.

With the Cold War at its peak, the possible annihilation of the human race seemed like too real of a possibility.

But then came the Stanley Kubrick film, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” a dark comedy satirizing the absurdity of the whole situation.

Tim Kazurinsky and Nate Herman both remember feeling stunned when they saw “Dr. Strangelove” in theaters in 1964.

Kazurinsky, an Evanston actor, recalls thinking: “Oh, my God! Somebody actually got a movie made that’s this naughty and irreverent and cheeky and counter-political.”

Herman, a writer-director-actor who lives in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood, says, “I was blown away by it. A black comedy about nuclear warfare done in a slapstick manner — it was everything that I wanted to do.”

Now, 50 years after Kubrick made the film, Herman is directing a staged reading of the screenplay starring Kazurinsky and other local actors. The ruefully humorous nuclear showdown will take place Monday on the stage at Evanston S.P.A.C.E., a venue where live music is the usual fare.

“There is going to be movement,” Herman promises. “It’s not going to be just people sitting in chairs.”

Kazurinsky, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, is playing the British military attaché Capt. Lionel Mandrake — one of four characters played by Peter Sellers in the original film. Other actors will handle the other Sellers roles, including Randy Craig as U.S. President Merkin Muffley.

“Let’s spread the work around, for gosh sake,” Kazurinsky says. “It’s a little intimidating to have to do Peter Sellers.”

Herman and Kazurinsky are both veterans of Second City, and they both happened to be on the writing staff at “Saturday Night Live” during the 1981-82 season, along with author Terry Southern, who’d written the “Dr. Strangelove” screenplay.

During next week’s reading of Southern’s script, they’ll be joined by actors including Gary Houston as Gen. Buck Turgidson, the role originally played by George C. Scott; Dave Pasquesi, as Gen. Jack D. Ripper, Sterling Hayden’s fluoride-obsessed character; and Jeff Taylor as Major “King” Kong, Slim Pickens’ missile-straddling cowboy.

Much has changed in the world since Southern and Kubrick lampooned humanity’s self-destructive tendencies in 1964. The Cold War ended, for one thing. The Soviet Union no longer exists. The U.S. and Russia aren’t threatening each other with nuclear missiles.

But Herman and Kazurinsky say “Dr. Strangelove” remains disturbingly relevant to today’s world affairs.

“We’ve got nuclear craziness in Iran, we’ve got it in Korea,” Kazurinsky says. “We have armed drones. The madness still abounds.”

Thinking back on public attitudes in the 1960s, Herman says, “Everyone thought we were just a hair’s breadth away from having some idiot on either side of the ocean push the button for some ridiculous and probably unfounded reason.” Today, the players may have changed, but the danger is still hanging over us, Herman says.

Comedy may seem like an odd way to respond to such a perilous situation, but Herman says the humor of “Dr. Strangelove” was necessary — and it still is.

Robert Loerzel is a local free-lance writer.

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