nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
October 12, 2007
Two performance pieces with nothing at all in common make up Clownifornia, showing at the New York Clown Theatre Festival. Actually, one thing in common they do have is the red ball nose—apparently these performers believe it to be de rigueur in the tradition of clowning. It's unfortunate they didn't hold on to more important traditions of their art, such as thoughtful choreography, tragic humor, and—most elemental—a story.
Jeff Seal starts the audience off with "A Sudden Gust of Gravity." It's a heavily poetic title, and Seal can't quite bear its weight. Though it is the more successful of the two pieces, it's also the more disappointing because Seal has an excellent conceit that goes nowhere. And despite his charm and exuberance, he makes no doorways into our hearts. He demonstrates in clown vernacular the theory of the time/space continuum, while also trying to find his exact presence on that continuum. He clumsily jumps around the stage, sometimes aided by a long elastic band, as he spews lines about space and direction and his body's interaction with the two. Unfortunately, the performance becomes repetitive and solipsistic. Potential is certainly there. If Seal can find a way to enchant his audience and put them on the same daunting continuum where he balances then his show will have more than just a great title.
The title is especially important for the second performance, "The Damsel's Demise," because it provides a modicum of context for a show that is almost devoid of it. Not that context is the end-all-and-be-all of theatre. With skillful and creative physicality, performers can rely on the imagination of the audience. But unfortunately movement is not a skill possessed by either one of the two performers/creators, Summer Shapiro and Suzanne Santos. That's a big problem for a show that has a minimal amount of language. They appear to be playing two little girls who have a fight and then make up with some new consciousness of their world. Pertinent topics are randomly presented (gender identity, sexism, war, et al), but then immediately tossed off like a placard after a rally.
There was no director or choreographer listed for either of these performances. And not having at least one of the two was painfully obvious throughout.