Theme: MONKEY BUSINESS. Since it's actually a double theme, I'll also go with APE IN THE MIDDLE. Second things first: The four longest answers each contain the hidden word APE, split between the first and last names of a real or fictional woman, consistently parsed as -A PE-. 18 A. Early Mary Tyler Moore role : LAURA PETRIE. Fictional Woman - Mrs. Rob PETRIE was a real dish on a favorite TV show from the distant past.
54 A. She played Carla Tortelli on "Cheers" : RHEA PERLMAN. Real Woman. You'd have to be, to be married to Danny Divito.
3 D. She played Nicole Chapman on "Fame" : NIA PEEPLES. Real Woman, who I've never heard of. Cute.
28 D. 1996 Madonna role : EVITA PERON. Real woman, fictionalized. Wow. Has it been 15 years?!?
Plus the extended unifier:
4. With 36- and 62-Across, kids' ball game, and something this puzzle's four longest answers have in common : MONKEY
36. See 4-Across : IN THE
62. See 4-Across : MIDDLE. In my neighborhood, we had a failure of imagination, and just called this often cruel game "keep-away."
Hi gang, it's Jazzbumpa, reporting from somewhere in APE country. Now, this dual theme is tight, cute, clever, and original. High marks for every bit of that. The only problem is that it's dead wrong! And thereby hangs a tail, so to speak. With that hint, I'll reveal why at the end, (which is sort of another hint, come to think of it.)
Let's see what other kinds of MONKEY BUSINESS we can uncover in APE country. Onward!
Once more at the entrance to the Novi, MI civic center, we find this wire sculpture of a figure holding a globe of the earth. It's still a bit enigmatic, though. Is that a dancer? An athlete? A frolicking child?
THEME: GO OFF, don't GOOF OFF! Common phrases starting with the words, "GO OFF" are clued* as if the words showed up in the theme answers; but instead, they are reserved for the unifier. This results in some odd-looking partials until you pull it all together. Then, you find that the theme questions define the answers quite nicely.
* With asterisks.
A 17. *Get carried away : (GO OFF) THE DEEP END.
A 64. *Act prematurely : (GO OFF) HALF COCKED.
D 11. *Lose it : (GO OFF) ONES ROCKER.
D 28. *Digress : (GO OFF) ON A TANGENT.
And the unifier: A 40. Explode, and words needed to complete the four starred answers :GO OFF. This filled in partially from the perps, and it was not immediately obvious how to parse the goofy-looking "_OOFF" until I took a good look at the clue.
Hi, gang. Reporting here from the DEEP END, it's JazzBumpa, the HALF-COCKED trombonist. I don't recall seeing a theme approach quite like this before, so high marks to Mr. Lim for a creative and tight theme. With that in mind, let's GO OFF exploring it. We'll find some other gems, for sure.