Tomfoolery is back, and if you don’t like it, it will cut your throat. Last year, “The Pillowman” separated fantasy from reality; now “Not Clown” adds a red nose to it. There’s physical comedy, a twisted homage to classic clowning, and some bona fide acting, too. Just one warning: if you weren’t frightened of clowns before, you might be now. This allegorical play (substitute clowns for any mistreated and misunderstood race) puts the laughter back in slaughter.
Of course, there are downsides to these knee-splitting torture scenes (which makes them literally knee splitting, too). The play has such paroxysms of narrative that it often seems not only that “Not Clown” was written by two different people (it was, Steve Moore and Carlos Trevino), but that these two people never met. While Trevino cleans up many of the nuances with his brilliant direction and set design, the script doesn’t help; in that, it’s a lot like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Disconnected moments peek in and out from behind curtains, teasing the audience like some intricate dance of the seven veils. In fact, for all the physical clowning—what a talented ensemble—these pantomimed, exaggerated motions are very much like a dance: a very bleak and dismal dance.
The substance is all there, but the contrivances of experimental theater often trap it. The performers are supposedly real clowns who escaped their oppressive country thanks to the writer/director/producer of “Not Clown,” Linda Johns, who wrote the show based on her experiences. After her indulgent introduction and an overlong dream sequence, the clowns take on the roles of their own torturers for show, which leads one of the actors to “quit” the show. Does “Not Clown” want to screw with us, or to paint a picture of the cruelty that we inflict on others and, more secretly, on ourselves?
This who-is-playing-who mind game also makes it hard to judge some of the acting in the final scenes. The last scene is either under-rehearsed or supposed to fall apart; both take away from Lee Eddy’s performance. I’ll assume she didn’t break character, simply because she was magnificent as the naïve clown, Dimples, and even better as Dimples’ “real-life” alter ego, Agnes McKee. With the exception of Elizabeth Doss (who plays Linda, and who is quickly overpowered, not just in the script, but by the other performers), all the actors are playing double-roles as (1) actors and (2) their clown characters, but only Eddy and Josh Meyer (who plays Alfred McKee) manage to bring sincerity and life to both roles. To be honest, they’re also the only two with stage time; the other clown-actors get little development beyond their clowning. I don’t want to fault the actors for that; they make comedy seem natural, especially Matt Hislope, who spends most of his time providing sound effects for the first of several shows-within-a-show.
Sure, “Not Clown” has flaws, but only from trying too much. The story is solid, even if the plotting isn’t, and the acting is marvelous, even if it’s necessarily one-dimensional for some. Think of “Not Clown” as a three-ring circus: there are three shows at once, which may be distracting, but some still call it the Greatest Show on Earth.
Soho Rep (46 Walker Street)
Tickets: $15.00 (212-868-4444)
Schedule: Thursday-Saturday @ 7:30 [CLOSES NEXT SATURDAY!]
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.