nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
November 6, 2011
Kendall Cornell is a very strong clown. She has great timing, she knows how to exaggerate her physicality and her character, the Poor Sophisticate, which serves as a throughline of Clowns Full-Tilt, is delightfully unexpected and original. The show itself, though directed by Cornell, lacks the precision inherent in her performance. The result is over an hour and a half of disjointed clown skits, gags and scenes that lack cohesion and specificity.
Clowns Full-Tilt is presented by the all female clown troupe Clowns Ex Machina. Cornell is joined by eight other performers, some of whom are very strong. Though they all don the requisite red noses, their speech, mannerisms and scenarios are often highly pedantic, begging the question—what defines a clown as a clown other than her nose?
In one bit, there is a completely white painting onstage and a clown uses her feet to try to bring color to it by dirtying it. In another, the ensemble is onstage, raising their hands and answering questions. At first these questions are science, history and math based, but later they move to makeup and feminine hygiene—all responses end with “and I’m dry” as they refer to their underarms. There definitely is a feminist feel to the show, based on the demographic of the ensemble as well as the fact that many of the scenes seem to depict aspects of the female experience. If there is a more specific feminist statement that is trying to be made, however, it is not clearly articulated.
In one of the more memorable points in the show, the ensemble members stand in a line and say things—both humorous and disturbing—that they regret. They go through the line four times, yet there is no build in intensity or tone, it just continues until it stops, without any arc. This is emblematic of the structure of the show as a whole—segments happen without creating any sort of overall arc. The exception to this are Cornell’s three scenes, evenly dispersed throughout the show, which episodically tell the story of her wooing a man in the audience.
Clown, like dance, stage combat, or mime, needs great physical precision. Clowns Full-Tilt feels under-rehearsed. There is no unified voice to the show—it seems that different members of the ensemble created different segments (which is great!) but it lacks the leitmotif and overall style to bring it into a cohesive performance. That being said, there is certainly talent here (Diana Lovrin, Julie Kinkle and Maria Smushkovich are particular standouts) and, under Kendall Cornell’s, vision they will certainly go far with a more unified, polished production.