Monday, October 19, 2015

Theatre Review: Clown Bar (Theatre on Fire, Charlestown, MA)

I'm about to try my hand at reviewing The Theatre.*  I'm also about to review a show in which my fiancé played a lead role, so you might question my objectivity.  Just to show you that I can be objective, here's an example of what a non-objective review would look like.
Clown Bar by Adam Szymkowicz is about a handsome, sexy, dashing clown-turned-cop named Happy Mahoney who, while on the quest for answers about his brother's murder, reunites with his old flame, Blinky Fatale, a skanky trollop who--SPOILER ALERT--totally had it coming.
That's not the review I'm going to write.  This is the review that I'm going to write.

Adam Szymkowicz's Clown Bar is directed by Darren Evans and produced by Theatre on Fire at the Charlestown Working Theater on Bunker Hill Street.  There are three performances remaining:  Thursday through Saturday, October 22-24, and if you know what's good for you, you're going to attend one of them.  Even if it weren't chock-full of slapstick gags and raunchy humor, its mere 70-minute runtime makes it accessible and approachable to even the most skeptical live-theatergoer.

Clown Bar is set in a bar, obviously, but the exciting twist is that the theater is also the bar!  As audience members, you feel like extras in the show going on all around you.  The only downside is that it's hard to see every moment because the actors are playing to the entire room, but if anything, that only makes you want to see the play another time from a different seat (which is totally possible, due to their affordable and flexible pricing**).  To complete the bar experience, there's a bartender, Foolish Todd (or Todd the Fool?), serving drinks if you're into that sort of thing.  If you're not into that sort of thing, be prepared to be mocked for your teetotaler ways by the clown patrons, who will interact with you prior to the performance.  Also, be prepared to be propositioned by Petunia the clown (Annie Hochheiser), who has perfected the art of letting her boobs do the talking.

After some mingling, crooning, and brief-but-blunt announcements about turning off your f**king cell phones, the show begins!  Happy Mahoney (played by Christopher Sherwood Davis) enters the bar on a quest for answers (or revenge, depending on whom you ask) about the death of his brother, Timmy (MacMillan Leslie).  Davis nails the mannerisms typical of the noir detective, though if you know him in real life, it requires some suspension of disbelief to see him as as intimidating, hardened detective.  You can't, however, doubt his sincerity for a minute.  This is best seen in one of the play's many flashback scenes--a conversation with Timmy explaining the pecking order of the clown car and the grandeur of circus life.  Such ridiculous subject matter has never been so moving.

As Happy continues his investigation, much clown-on-clown violence ensues.  Just as the testosterone levels are about to skyrocket, enter Blinky Fatale (played by Emma Goodman), the sultry burlesque dancer and Happy's former lover.  The burlesque routine wasn't my favorite part of the show--something about the amount of clothing at the beginning/amount of clothing at the end/length of the routine ratio was off, or possibly, as a lady with lady-parts, the idea that other ladies' lady-parts might be revealed at some point doesn't have the same tantalizing appeal to me as it would to other people.  Nonetheless, Goodman reveals herself (no pun intended) to be a very competent dancer.  Despite being a younger actress, Goodman has a very mature voice that fits the role of femme fatale perfectly.  "Clown Love" (aka the epic five-minute make-out scene between Happy and Blinky aka the thing I'd been nervous about having to sit through ever since Christopher told me he got that part) was performed brilliantly and was a huge hit with the audience, hitting the perfect balance between sexy and campy.

The ensemble cast is strong, all members contributing a different nuanced layer in the complex world of underground clown life.  The most outstanding clown, however, was Dusty (played by Chris Wagner), the clown crooner who stole the show with a monologue about his dead cat (and other misfortunes) all the while completely oblivious to a gun standoff right under his nose.  The way Wagner portrays pathetic is comic perfection.  This was definitely my favorite moment of the whole show.

I once asked Christopher what makes a director "good," to which he replied that the best-directed shows are shows in which you don't notice the director.  This is probably why (in addition to my knowing very little about theatre) I don't really have that much to say about the director.  The show was seamless, and the nonsensical world of seedy clown crime seemed perfectly natural.

Clown Bar isn't going to be that play that makes you reexamine your life (unless your life is clown-crime-related, I guess), but it is darn good entertainment and a fantastic production.  I highly recommend spending an evening in the Clown Bar.

Tickets and more information can be found here.
Content Warning:  language (PG-13/R), sexuality (PG-13), and clown-on-clown violence (PG)

*Say this in the most pretentious way possible when reading aloud.
**You can pay $0, $10, or $20 for a ticket!  But unless you're completely and totally destitute, don't be a jerk, and pay $10 (or $20!).

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