No Place Like Home
nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
October 6, 2007
Clowns have gotten a bad rap. Yes, the white faces and red noses can be grotesque, and it's kind of creepy the way they pack into those Volkswagens by the dozen. But not all clowns fit into these neat stereotypes, and not all of them inadvertently spark visions of Pennywise from Stephen King's It. Indeed, Rob Torres—whose one-man performance, No Place Like Home, is now playing in the New York Clown Theatre Festival—is so warm and welcoming that he couldn't scare you even if he decided to wildly wield a big butcher knife. (Don't worry: he doesn't.)
Maybe that is because Torres is not the face-paint-and-red-nose type, but a classical silent clown. With much of his performance involving physical comedy and vaudevillian tricks, Torres has clear roots in the comedy of Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Like Chaplin (think of the famous Dinner Roll Dance in The Gold Rush), part of Torres's charm is his ability to magically change an object or a place into something entirely different. Torres's title, No Place Like Home, alludes to the bare stage that Torres gradually turns into the semblance of a house with a roll of masking tape, three suitcases, and a little creativity. Although Home contains no story to speak of, it's captivating nonetheless, as you watch the house take shape and wonder what Torres will transform next.
Or what gags and magic tricks he's got in store. When he can't figure out how to tie the red tie to go with his new suit, he swings it around frantically in one hand and ends up with, lo and behold, a perfect knot. (And when it's too long, he happily fixes it with masking tape.) Clearly a skilled juggler as well, Torres takes four stacked cups, heaves three into the air, and catches them all in the remaining cup. And although he is not technically a mime, he also borrows some non-annoying bits from typical pantomime, walking down an unseen flight of stairs and, when lugging his three suitcases to the basement, riding the elevator.
Although his comedy obviously stems from several kinds of humor, Torres's personality bears the most resemblance to the perpetually jubilant, prop-loving Harpo Marx (only without the violent and hyper-sexual tendencies). When Torres performs a trick successfully, he beams wide-eyed underneath his mop of hair, his mouth stretching into a surprised smile and the apples of his cheeks practically popping off his face, as if to say, "Did you see that? I can't believe I did that!" Forever seeking the approval of his viewers, and always carrying with him a gleeful innocence, Torres is an overgrown child who finds wonder in everything. It's no wonder, then, that he identifies someone in the audience as his "mama" and, when he hurts himself, asks her to kiss his boo-boos. (I'll let you imagine the naughty joke that follows.)
In fact, there is plenty of interaction with the audience, but because Torres lacks any kind of aggression, his approaches are non-threatening and fun. Before snapping a tablecloth from underneath his plates and cups, he hands a miniature drum set to someone in the first row and requests (in his own sparse language of high-pitched gibberish) a drum roll for his next trick. When he sends dishes crashing to the floor, and the drummer from the audience pulls the tablecloth off successfully, Torres jealously shakes a menacing fist at him. It's all in good fun, though. He's not the kind of clown that would attack.