“Rule One: There are no rules,” announces the slightly slow Giggles at the top of Clown Bar. In the back room of Parkside Lounge, a parallel world of clown noir has somehow crossed into ours. And much like the iconic clown car, you’re not quite sure how they packed all that fun into such a tiny space.
Reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with its send up of noir melodrama and its coupling of two heightened forms (in this case noir and clown, rather than cartoon), Clown Bar is a raucously good time. The audience sips cocktails at tables littered with clown noses (go ahead, put yours on) while the characters bob, weave, sing, and pratfall around them in an impressive show of controlled chaos. With trusty Thumbs at the piano to play through every moment, the show combines the turns of phrase and seedy plots of film noir with the physical humor and borderline scariness of clown and launches both forms into new heights of hilarity.
The only way to find Clown Bar is to look for the sign with the clown face around the corner from the entrance to Parkside. Once you walk in, you can choose your seat as close or as far from the clowns milling about as you like and place your order with the wait staff. Be prepared to be verbally abused by the disgruntled Dusty or flirted with by Petunia or chatted up by Twinkles – and be prepared to like it. Take note of the chalk outline of a body by the stage and the old flyers pasted on the walls warning that “Unattended children will be sold to the circus.” and then sit back and enjoy the ride. Plot twists abound in true noir fashion and Giggles’ rule from moment one is put into effect again and again.
The magic that is Clown Bar is thanks to a union of true theatrical talent, brought to you by Pipeline Theatre Company and its ensemble. Adam Szymkowicz’s script is a case study in meticulously crafted playfulness. Adam Neisler’s direction utilizes the space and his performers to their utmost and the team responsible for the choreography, design, and stage management should be hired by everyone for everything all the time immediately.
Hats, noses, and pants off to all the performers. There is nothing funnier than watching great actors play such ridiculousness with utter conviction. Shane Zeigler keeps a chiseled straight face the entire time as Happy, the cop who escaped clown life who’s now back to avenge his brother, Timmy. While Timmy may be tragically unfunny, Dan Tracy in the role is very. The flashbacks between he and Zeigler have some of the most quotable lines ever heard in a play. Watching Noah Zachary as Dusty struggle past the same poor audience member who happened to be sitting in front of the stage every time he had to go sing was a joy. Andrew Farmer does an uncanny Ed Wynn as the circus boss Bobo and steals the show with his appearance in the final act. Jessica Frey channels some Joker in the unhinged hitgal Popo. Kelley Rae O’Donnell and Claire Rothrock subvert the damsel-in-distress and femme fatale tropes, respectively as Petunia and Blinky, with their spot on physical comedy. Also noteworthy was Ian Axness as Thumbs the piano player for hitting every note with his back turned to most of the action he and Adam Overett scored.
Clown Bar is a fantastic way to spend your evening. If you love clowns, go see this show. If you hate clowns, go see this show. Getting sauced has never been so much fun.