Why are so many people repulsed by (and fearful of) clowns? Could it be because the barbaric humor they deploy is played, in part, to mock the audience? Who, after all, but fools would be entertained by such crude gestures and antics? Or is it because those white, white faces, with broadly drawn features, are just plain scary? Rachelle Elie, in her one-woman show, Joe: The Perfect Man, at least spares us the white clown make-up, but everything else about her character’s grotesquely padded physique and appearance is from the classic costume rack: a hopelessly unconvincing grey, curly wig; wide-lens glasses; penciled-on goatee; black taped tooth gaps. Did I mention the loud plaid jacket and wide-striped pants? Yes, settle back folks, because this brand of entertainment will be, well, broad.
Elie’s clown is Joe Mal, a recently fired teacher closing on his sixties, who may or may not, depending on your sense of clownery, be suffering a nervous breakdown. Joe has turned up, in a soul-saving lather of enthusiasm, to audition for a part in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Only Joe – the crazy crackpot! – has notions on how he will improve the play by performing all the main parts and re-envisioning it as a rock ballet. With a happy ending. Jeez! Funny, no? And Joe (like any self-respecting clown) has a suitcase full of imaginative props to help the, er, drama, along. And, if that’s not enough, Joe instigates some audience participation (not once, but twice) in efforts to impress his unseen audition director, as he reinterprets monologues as “polylogues”, and directs the final scene as a balletic, joyful reunion of the villainous Lord and Lady Macbeth. Oh brother! Have we got a live one here, etc.
I, for one, was grateful when Joe’s concentration would slip and, forgetting momentarily what he was doing or where he was, he would go into free-fall in a disjointed, disturbing monologue of his own. Here was a real example of chaotic lunacy, not all that whack-em on the side of the head slapstick that was going on onstage. Clowning with a twist, and here, I thought, was the real genius of Elie’s invention – a performer terrified that the performance was drifting away from their control, that it was essentially discarding them leaving an abandoned creator whose own monster creation no longer had use for her.
Developed originally in a clown workshop in 2005, the character of Joe has taken hold of Rachelle Elie ever since. In collaboration with, and under the direction of Adam Lazarus, she has shopped him around to great acclaim for the past three years in his Macbeth auditioning role. In 2008 she won an Outstanding Comedy Award at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Every performance, especially if you are relying on audience participants, is different of course. There were some genuinely disturbing, poignant, even funny moments in Joe, and there is no denying the performer’s courage, engagement and intelligence amidst the shenanigans. Elie can sing, dance, clown and collapse to the stage with aplomb. Bathos and pathos skate perilously close to each other here and that’s part of the thrill. But all the mayhem and silly-string in the world can fall short in an attempt to connect with people. If you begin with buffoonery and work up to travesty, perhaps you need to exercise a tighter control on the course of events and on audience attention. And audience sympathy. Because I could never believe in Joe, I was indifferent to his fate. I wouldn’t say the same of my attitude toward the undeniably talented Rachelle Elie.
~~~Joe: The Perfect Man
Written by Rachelle Elie & Directed by Adam Lazarus
Presented by Crowning Monkey Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street) $16
Fri 2/25 @ 4pm, Sun 2/27 @ 4pm, Mon 2/28 @ 7:30pm, Tue 3/1 @ 6pm, Fri 3/4 @ 8:30pm, & Sun 3/6 @ 2:30pm
FRIGID New York Festival 2011 will run February 23-March 6 at The Kraine Theater & The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A). Tickets ($10-$16) may be purchased online at www.FRIGIDnewyork.info or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444. All shows will run 60 minutes long or less.