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November 12, 2011

Clowns Full-Tilt: A Musing on Aesthetics, created and directed by Kendall Cornell in collaboration with the ensemble, Clowns Ex Machina, at La MaMa

… art, life and wit! …

If you enjoy the pleasures of really deep satisfying laughs coming fast one upon the next, see Clowns Full-Tilt.  It’s marvelously performed, and constantly surprising.

On a stunning, helter-skelter post-mod stage with classical columns at the tilt, derelict platforms covered in brown paper, and an old-fashioned bathtub, the cast of nine multi-talented women, all wearing red clown noses, bring to three-dimensional life some famous paintings -- and with some “great moments” in literature thrown in.  They dance, they sing and they act with a non-stop, cleverly devised flow of one scene to the next.  Everything is done with vigor, balletic grace, and infectious ebullience and everything is underlined by great wit -- to say nothing of knowledge of art, literature and the classics.

Serious ideas lie behind the laughter – and you’re laughing all the time.  Among the paintings, Degas’ disaffected couple in his key painting, Absinthe, come to life and talk existential (what else in a French cafe?).   Diego Rivera’s Frida Kahlo is there with Fridadoor-IMG_2373aher iconic stare and dashing Mexican ruffles.  If you've always wanted to see the face of the girl in Wyeth’s Christina’s World, now’s your chance … and hold on to your hat because you’re in for a surprise.   Dreiser’s American Tragedy finds its way in as a source for great comedy – why not!  Nothing is sacred, even a Raphael Madonna and Child, and it’s all life affirming.

Meet Frida Kahlo.  L Diane Lovrin and R Carla Bosnjak.  Photo:  Marina Levitskaya

Some particularly strong episodes with a feminist bent go beyond the art-to-life theme.  Smart girls in school anxiously come up with the right answers to difficult questions while being equally anxious about staying, as the word goes, “dainty.” There’s a classic confessional in which venial, and not so venial sins are admitted that strike knowing cords of recognition.  Like all fine clowns, these are fine actors, and you see in their faces their struggles to confess -- or not to.

And Clowns Full-Tilt is liberating with its unabashed range of female body types in motion.  The cast appears at times looking nearly nude in pink unitards with bright nipples (sometimes a bit askew), and dance, sing, act and range into the audience in their full female variety.  Short, tall, thin, chunky, younger and older (though all not apparent in the photo below), their joie de vivre casts its spell.  They all dance well but they all wouldn’t make it into the American Ballet Theater.  Talk about acceptance – yes! 

 IMG_3323a      Clowns Full-Tilt ensemble.  Edge of that bathtub visible on left with canvas open to   possibilities on  right.  Photo:  Marina Levitskaya

Clowns Ex Machina -- like the deus ex machina, the "god from the machine" who appeared miraculously at the end of ancient tragedies thanks to a scenic contraption -- and made everything OK.  Perfect title for this clown troupe -- great comedy makes everything OK, too, at least for a little while.  But then, the Greek gods couldn't do any better.   

I’m glad to think of all the great paintings, all the literature, all the ideas in the world just waiting for a thorough go-over by Clowns Ex Machina.    Great there's room for lots more to come!

Clowns Full-Tilt  plays at La MaMa's First Floor Theatre in Manhattan's East Village through November 20.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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What a pleasure to read your review of this wondrous evening of theater. There was so much to awaken the mind and the spirit continuously throughout this performance. My only regret is that there was not more people/audience for this extraordinary work of art. One cannot be but very disturbed by the masses which attend the many intellectually and spiritually soporific theatrical performances on Broadway at outrageous ticket prices, whereas so few – very lucky ones – can witness performances like this for so little. This only bespeaks of the need for continuing support of our off, off Broadway world.

I agree the luck, as you say, is with those who get to see these great performances off-off Broadway ... I feel lucky, too. And by the way, that's why I write my blog.

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