Sunday, July 22, 2007

500 Clown Macbeth

I finally managed to get out to see this production. It has been bandied before to me, but I, unfortunately, allowed it to pass. Now it has been revived, alongside companion piece, 500 Clown Frankenstein, at the Steppenwolf Theater where the two shows are playing in repertory into August. (They will also appear in New York this December.)

Some envision clowns as the heavily greasepainted, bawdy costumed characters at a circus. While the costuming of this comic work certainly communicates outlandish, this ain't the kind of clown you might expect. Instead, via theatrical work, the trio of Molly Brennen, Adrian Danzig, and Paul Kalina are returning clowning to its roots.

As characters, they are all too real since, as clowns, they can satirically reveal in reducio absurdum our genuine human foible. It is the role of a clown to make one feel something. Here is how we come to understand ourselves. And this is what their creative work accomplishes. In under 75 minutes of antics, they lead us through a hilarious struggle in pursuit of power, glory, destruction. Breaking the fourth wall, and involving the audience in spots (I was proclaimed, "The Knight of No" at this performance), allows these clowns to establish a personal connection with us and draw us more closely into their world.

A unique stage setting here offers the opportunity of exciting physical comedy. For perhaps half an hour (or more), alone, these clowns pursue a crown by climbing the stage's scaffolding. But things never get slow or repetitive in this prolonged chase. Rather, new and exciting bits are discovered at every turn. Indeed, whenever it seems that the desired prize is within arms reach, a new twist is revealed.

There are ups and downs which make the plot particularly worthy. Some of the best parts, it seems, are actually when things take a turn and get silent before ramping up again. Indeed, the cast does an excellent job of creating theater in its best sense via the dramtic levels which they bring about. Nor, it should be noted, is this show mere silliness. The clowns of 500's Macbeth will keep you laughing at length, but also provoke worthwhile thought if you let them. It's the best of both worlds - and what serious clowning can do.

As an extended clowning work, yet compacted theater, the trio takes the traditional Macbeth and turns it inside out. There isn't much narrative from the actual play, in fact. (And what does find its way onto the scene tends to unexpectedly intrude for comic reminder that, "Yes, this is Shakespeare, afterall!") Instead, their interpretation cuts to the chase and gets at the ultimate essence of the underlying story with noble simplicity. Perhaps only clowns can honestly tell it like it really is, straightforward, in all its bloody mess of truth.

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