Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Move, Clown! (Spring: 1989)

I have tried to get the chronology right but I just can't see that far back into the past so if anyone out there has contradictory information, please let me know.

I believe that the final production of my sophomore year was an evening of one-acts by Moliere that has come to be known (to me, anyway) as "The Molieres". Another artist in residence type deal, with new translations of three one-acts by Moliere.

Each one-act was to have a different director and no overlapping cast members. The first of the evening was to be done with masks, very traditional. Then my show. We were full on circus clowns. Finally the last of the evening was set in modern day Cranston, Rhode Island and a whole Jersey Shore/guido aesthetic was layered over the classical language.

The overall effect of the evening was one of a kind of manic schizophrenia. The first show ended in a tableau, corsetted actresses frozen next to cravat wearing powdered wig actors. The set was a series of flats made to look like an aristocratic palace or mansion. We clowns came flying up out of the vom, a runway that led from the stage to the underbelly of the Fine Arts building.

We batted the cast over the head with big nerf hammers. We kicked them in their bustled buts with big floppy feet. We shoved their set back into the recesses of Will Theater until it exploded in a giant crash which was a sound cue brilliantly conceived.

Our show was the shortest of the three. It was so much fun to hide in that ramp waiting for the first one-act to end. That classical rendition really got the audience laughing in spite of the unfamiliar arch style they employed. The masks took on personality and expression that seemed far more fluid than the fixed reality of the appearance. You could feel the audience transforming, being brought back to a different sort of attention span.

This made the arrival of a troupe of modern clowns that much more hilarious. Even before we'd begun our play we could hear the audience screaming with delight. Because, no matter how much you might enjoy a play done in masks, there is a small impish part of you that would love to give the actors a swift kick in the rear. I liken it to how people feel about mimes. Sure, they might suck you in from time to time but you're still a little angry about it when it happens!

So we gave vent to some innocent disgruntled point of view that the audience had already discarded! We reminded them that it was okay to roll your eyes at a bunch of assholes in masks! And then our show took off like a wooden jalopy on a flaming set of train tracks.

I played a lecherous clown doctor who was supposed to be helping a family find a match for their daughter. But mostly I grabbed her boobs and swigged from bottles of Jack Daniels while honking a horn to show how hot she was. This was not high-brow comedy. In fact, it was so low brow that there wasn't even a brow. It was just low.

They ate it up. I remember getting a big laugh because I did a double take that made the big curly wig I wore shake on top of my head. In a ten minute show I completely exhausted myself.

Then the last one act of the evening started, somehow weaving a Vietnam vet having flashbacks while lip syncing to "I'm So Excited". There was hairspray, tiny skirts, fuck-me-pumps, wife-beaters, leather jackets, and lots of long vowel expressions of disgust or lust.

The juxtaposition of the language of Moliere with these modern guidos and guidettes was jarring to a ridiculously funny degree. The crowd was mainly Rhode Islanders so they saw nuance galore in a portrayal of a local population that skewered them good-humoredly.

The best part about this production was the pre-show rituals that we all got involved in. Imagine these three shows jumbled into one dressing room. You had guys tying up ruffled shirts and buttoning breeches. You had clowns pulling on fake noses and smearing white chalk all over their faces. And you had tough guy guidos greasing their hair and practicing their moronic accents.

My good friend David (he of the hat toss from Edwin Drood) was the ringleader of this cast. I think Judith came up with the concept for this play specifically so that David could wield his insane brand of Italian humor like a battle axe.

The clowns and the guidos had a not-so-friendly rivalry going on. One guy would walk in and even though he had PLENTY of room would walk right close to you and say in a dead staccato blare, "MOVE CLOWN." He wouldn't pass until you moved! God, this shit was funny. And we clowns would pick our noses at them, blow Bronx cheers, copy everything they said until they were fuming, y'know, we clowned them to death.

Once it escalated into an arm-punching war between David and myself. We were both already in full costume and make up. He said something like, "You're just a fuckin' clown" and punched my arm. I repeated it in a Mickey Mouse squeak and punched him right back.

He said, "You're just a FUCKIN' clown." And hit me harder. I went higher with the Mickey Mouse squeal and punched him right back.

He said, "FUCKIN' CLOWN" and hit me so hard tears came to my eyes. We stood huffing and staring at one another, truly angry, until the sheer insanity of the moment overtook us and we burst out laughing.

I can only imagine what he saw, a forlorn clown with a tear trickling down his bright white cheek!


Peter said...

Actually, there were two actors who were cast in two of the one-acts. Tony ? (a senior) was in the first and the third, and I was cast in the first (in which I played the romantic lead for the one and only time in my life) and the second (in which I played ... I don't remember). In fact, I was stripped of my first costume and dressed up in a clown outfit for the second while onstage. Was I proud that I was one of only two cast in multiple shows? Damn right I was.

Brendan O'Malley said...

how dare you contradict me on my own blog peter wood??? how is that kind of attitude going to help you deal with your hypocritical professors in grad school, huh???

totally forgot you were in the first one!

Peter said...

Memory is a funny thing, full of holes and curlicues and oddly strange threads that make up the tapestry of the past.

That was also the high point of my acting career at URI because a semester later, I left the theatre program for the English Dept because a) I had huge issues with how Kimber wielded his power and b) I wasn't a very good actor (and it would take years for me to realize that the reason I was not a great actor was because my brain is wired to work as a director).