Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seriously Wacky Clowning

Four Clowns. Sacred Fools Theater. Los Angeles. 5/27/11.

Whenever a friend says to me, "Hey, want to see a show?," my default response is "Sure! Why not?" Tonight, like many other nights, that resulted in a late night trip to Sacred Fools.

I didn't really love Four Clowns, but I was impressed by the hard work and zany skills of four very talented performers. The show really blossomed when the actors were off script, either improvising with audience suggestions or just clowning around between scenes.

The piece revolves around the 4 types of clowns, the angry clown, the nervous clown, the mischievous clown, and the sad clown, so I was expecting a demonstration of these different comedic archetypes. However, what Four Clowns really does is provide each of these clowns with a backstory and follows them through 4 stages of life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood/work, and death). At first, I pretty much hated this pop psychology approach to clowning and was more offended than amused by the depictions of childhood abuse and neglect. As it moved past childhood, though, the play grew on me, and grew increasingly humorous. When the clowns hit their stride, I really did find myself laughing, and really, what else do I want from clowns?

From a gender and sexuality perspective, this isn't exactly the best play ever. Alexis Jones as the Sad Clown was the only woman in the cast, and as such she portrayed some pretty terrible mothers in addition to her own abject state as victim of emotional abuse. However, she absolutely held her own in the physicality of the clowning and had some really great moments of dancing and movement that I loved. Similarly, Amir Levi as the Nervous Clown started out portraying some gay cliches (and a truly awful abusive mother), but moved beyond them to depict a sweet and then heartbreaking first date with Angry Clown Raymond Lee.

The best moments of the play were absolutely the moments without words and the moments when the clowns were freest to improvise. The use of nonsense and gobbledygook to replace dialogue created truly wonderful moments. When two clowns playing teenage bullies carried on an entire conversation using only words "dude" and "bro," I was absolutely delighted by the creativity and expressiveness of their dialogue. This is one of the few shows I can honestly say the less dialogue the better; the mumbles and silences showcased the physicality and creativity that are absolutely the strengths of this show.

While I didn't love this piece, I absolutely respect it. If you're interested in some seriously dark, sometimes offensive explorations of what clowning can communicate, this is totally the show for you. And during the Fringe Festival, the same actors will be doing something titled Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet, which I think just might be awesome. Since for me the script was the difficult point of this production, I think I just might love them when they're using Shakespeare's plot instead.