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New dinner theater presents life of Groucho Marx

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"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

By Davivd J. Glenn

"Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."

"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

These and many other jabs at hypocrisy and dishonesty have become almost a part of the language.

But what may not be as well known is that Groucho Marx authored them all - as well as other one-liners like "I've been around so long, I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin," or "I never forget a face - but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception."

Brooklyn-born Gabe ("Welcome Back Kotter") Kaplan has reprised his performance of "Groucho - A Life in Review," written by Groucho's son, Arthur, which he presented on HBO in the 1980s, at the Sid Caesar Dinner Theatre at the elegant Huntington Townhouse in Huntington Station, L.I., the club opened by a Floral Park couple in January. "Groucho" continues at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 8; 8 p.m. Friday, March 9 and Saturday, March 10; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, March 11. Coming in April is "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" about the theater's namesake's pioneering TV program, "The Show of Shows." Call 718-347-8670.

In "Groucho," Kaplan portrays Julius Marx's life from his and his brothers' movies, to his radio and television career as host of the quiz show, "You Bet Your Life," and finally to his years as an aging, but still very much "with it," comic who died in 1977 at age 82. Supporting Kaplan on the simple set at the dinner theater are Misty Rowe (who was the car-hop girl in TV's "Happy Days") playing many of the women in Groucho's life including his three wives, and Bob Ader as Chico (Lenny) Marx.

Kaplan succeeds in showing Marx as more than a deliverer of one-liners; the audience walks away from the performance with a sense that Groucho was a complex, sometimes melancholy man, who used laughter as a way to cope with the frustrations, injustices, and prejudices of life. Groucho, whose parents were Orthodox Jews but who married non-Jewish women all three times, was able to satirize, and thus crystallize, much of the human condition with his piercing wit. Perhaps the most famous example was when the owner of a country club first gushed with delight when he met him but then said he couldn't allow Groucho in the pool because he was Jewish. Groucho asked him, "Well, my son is half Jewish - can he go up to his waist?"

"To me, making jokes is like saying 'I love you,'" Kaplan as Groucho tells the audience. He shows how Groucho regretted never actually articulating his love for his wives or his brothers.

"He was the ultimate comedian," Kaplan, 55, said in a Qguide interview in his dressing room after Sunday's matinee. He said that watching "Duck Soup," Coconuts," "A Night at the Opera" and other Marx Brothers movies as a youngster was a key inspiration for his deciding on comedy acting as a career.

"Comedians are sad people," Kaplan said. "We make up for it by telling jokes."

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