Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Clowns and More Clowns

I hope I never get so jaded I start taking for granted the city I love, the city in which I live, the city of my birth, the city of my dreams. By which I mean, of course, Gotham. New York City. It's all finite space and building up and over. Forward looking, with an endlessly fascinating history that hardly anyone seems to know much about. Like the other great cities of the world: London, Paris, Tokyo - you can never come to the end of it. There's always more, always something you didn't know about, something old or new that you've never seen or done. It never stops being thrilling. It's like the internet, but in real life!

So, pretty much everyone knows there are clubs in our fair and violent city where jazz musicians experiment and play for mostly other jazz musicians, workshops where theater people show work that's still in process to other theater people. Rooms and coffee shops and bars where poets read their new poems for others of their bearded and bespectacled ilk, and open mikes where comedians mostly make each other laugh (or attempt to). But what of the clowns? Where do the red of nose and floppy of feet go to juggle and fall down and work out their complex physical business before presenting their artistry in Tops, both big and small? They go to The New York Downtown Clown Revue, that's where - as did I last night, escorted by silky downtown impresario, Trav S.D.

Founded, hosted and curated by Christopher Lueck (old friend and onetime collaborator - he played the White Bear in the FringeNYC version of Antarctica), he had seemingly retired the Revue last year, but it has happily re-emerged at Dixon Place, a venue close to my heart as they were the very first people to pay me actual money for being a playwright. The snazzy new seats were close to filled with off duty clowns who had come to see what their brethren were up to. Like any night of variety, it was a mixed bag. Clowns are curious folk, and at certain points during the program it felt a bit like being locked in the Monkey House after hours, when one is not a Monkey oneself. Chris is a delightful and enthusiastic host who has divided the program between Presented Acts and Commissioned Acts. Matt Mitler, one of the commissioned performers (his brief was to come up with a short, shamanistic clown piece with musical meditation themes) achieved something completely and distinctively strange, which he performed with absolute commitment and was really not much like anything I've seen (and, as I've said many times before, I've seen a great deal).

But the highlight of the performances was easily the masterful Joel Jeske (who also performs an act, The Hey-Ya Brothers, with Mr. Lueck), joined by surprise guest, Grandma (AKA Barry Lubin), of Big Apple Circus fame. They were simply hilarious. I fear sometimes, that with all the European training some clowns acquire, and all the theory, modern clowns sometimes forget to be funny. Mr. Jeske, in pitch perfect straight man mode, attempts to sing Christmas songs and play his ukulele. Grandma, the most disruptive audience member imaginable, prevents this from happening. Hilarious. Then Grandma brought an audience member onstage and they squirted water at each other. Hilarious. Comedy is unexplainable. It's all precision and practice and practice and more practice. Like being a ballet dancer. But funnier. And they fall down more.

The New York Downtown Clown Revue is the third Monday of every month. For more information, go here. For my darling inamorato's review of the revue, look here.

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