nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
October 7, 2007
"What is that thing?" asks a delighted pre-school aged girl upon entering the seating area of the Brick in Williamsburg. The "thing" is clown performer extraordinaire Jesse Buck lying sideways in a lump underneath a stretchy red blanket. The girl's anticipation and curiosity help counteract the out-of-season warmth and the arms-folded energy of many of the hipsters in the audience. Joining the girl in the front row are two older siblings and two parents. Joining Buck onstage are a white pillow, an alarm clock, a red milk crate, a toothbrush, a bottle of Dasani water, a medium pool of amber light, and bubkus, the Yiddish term for nothing. No scenery, no light cues, no sound cues (ok, one alarm ring), no other actors, no lines of dialogue. Bubkus.
But this Ottawa native's bubkus happens to be made of geshiktkeyt (dexterity), sheferish (creativity), and emotsye (emotions), which elicit much elekhter (laughter) over the course of a wordless hour of pure farvaylung (entertainment). This celebration of making something out of nothing brings to mind the spirit Gilda Radner in her sketch, "The Judy Miller Show," on Saturday Night Live. Bubkus begins with Jesse Buck brushing his teeth under the blanket. "You're funny!" announces one of the brothers in the front row. Buck's clown is facile enough to acknowledge what he is given (or not) by the audience and to keep on track with his physical antics.
After a series of morning preparations, he asks several members of the audience to bop him over the head with his pillow. The oldest brother on the front row is most successful, knocking off Buck's hat, revealing a mop of tangled, stringy hair. Using his minimal props Buck transforms into a French waiter and then becomes someone dealing with a giant snake, falling into his own vomit, and then dancing with a woman.
Jesse Buck never puts the responsibility of the evening's diversion on any of the members of the audience. He flirts with the women in the audience by sucking venom out of feet. He challenges the men in the audience with faux bravura. He mocks and teases the children. He keeps it all playful without putting anyone on the spot or embarrassing them. He dances up to The Line and respectfully sashays back after placing a gentle toe on it.
The third act of this piece involves a tale of good versus evil with a hero saving a woman from a monster. He plays all the characters with clarity and does a great hunchbacked dwarf. You have to respect a performance that works in the turning on of the window air conditioner in the middle of a climatic fight scene. You have to love his mocking of offstage chatter during a death scene that includes "hey, I'm working here" groaning gibberish and three or four encore deaths, egged on by applause. These are things that make you appreciate live theatre all over again.
It is always nice to leave the theatre lighter than when you entered it. I caught up to the family going down Metropolitan Avenue towards Kellogg's Diner for a milkshake. The girl thought Jesse Buck was "too serious." The middle brother's favorite part was Buck's hair falling out of his hat. The oldest brother said, "Come on, who wouldn't like me hitting some clown with a pillow."
As you head back to the Great White North, Mr. Buck, just know you did your job. You delighted several generations of the not-easily entertained. Please make another one and come back again soon.