Lester and Louis Save the World
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
October 19, 2007
Being a clown on stage is hard work. You are expected to attempt ridiculously complicated physical acts, such as juggling, dancing, and acrobatics with expert skill. Not only that, but you are expected to be so in control of these intense physical acts that when you fail miserably, as clowns inevitably do, it becomes hysterically funny. This not easy to do, and unfortunately, it is not done in Lester and Louis Save the World.
The initial concept behind Lester and Louis Save the World is strong. One day, fishing in a stream, Lester and Louis catch a huge fish. This fish turns out to be God, who tells them that they need to go around the world and fill a little jar with laughter, or the world will end. However, if the little jar is filled with laughter, an angel will get its wings. This is an excellent premise for a clown show—it sets the stakes very high for whatever the clowns attempt on stage, and should make their despair when it fails that much greater and, ideally, funnier.
However, instead of joining Lester and Louis at the beginning of their quest, the audience joins Lester and Louis 15 years later. Louis has gotten into a fight with Lester, and left the act—leaving Lester alone to do a two-man show. While this is also a funny concept for a clown show, the combination of the two ideas, instead of heightening the comedy, muddles it. It feels overcomplicated.
To add to that sense, halfway through the piece, Lester the Clown transforms into a sort of self-help guru who delivers monologues about bettering yourself. It is he, and not Lester nor Louis, who is key to saving the world, it seems. The reason for this change is unclear, and seems to add another unnecessary aspect that muddles the show.
Justin Dobring, as Lester, works very hard. He seems a talented and capable actor, who keeps up a remarkably high level of energy, physically and vocally, throughout the piece. However, a very important part of clowning is the clown's rapport with the audience. It is this that connects the audience to the clown, and allows them to laugh at their pain, their joy, their rage, etc. It often feels as though Justin Dobring is acting at the audience, rather than to it. He is working hard trying to be funny rather than trying to bring the audience into the world of this clown. The result is that the audience doesn't go with him on his journey through his one-man show, and his failures feel more awkward than funny.
There are moments later in the piece, when he is acting as the self-help guru, where he allows himself to relax, and does bring the audience in for a few moments of true hilarity. These moments are something very positive to build on if he and the company behind Lester and Louis Save the World go on to develop this piece further.
Lester and Louis Save the World is a promising piece of clown theatre. It has several strong concepts in it, an energetic and versatile performer at its core, but, in its present form, is muddled, unclear, and has only fleeting moments of true hilarity. These moments, however, could turn into something truly wonderful, and I sincerely hope in its next incarnation, it will.