Clowns Galore: Fake French to Truly Strange

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The New York Sun

For the next few weeks, you won’t be able to swing a cat in Williamsburg without hitting a mime or a *buffon* or a Chaplinesque tramp, thanks to the miniscule Brick Theater’s New York Clown Theatre Festival. While one of their own (the anarchic Red Bastard, whose alter-ego Eric Davis co-curated the festival) describes the space as a “converted pizza oven next to an alleged mafia bar,” clowns have never looked so at home in Brooklyn.

After an opening christened with a no-holds-barred indoor pie fight — “I made a chocolate snow angel,” sighed one of the venue’s directors — the clown cavalcade began in earnest. In any single day, you can see work by a favorite local, a duo from Montana or a musical saw act, take an intensive workshop or go to a lecture on clowning as a career. In a deck so completely stacked with jokers, any show can be the wild card — but so far, most of the festival’s shows have been surprisingly high value.

One of the most successful productions is the Parisian import, “Le Chiche Capon’s Cabaret,” a trip down the rabbit hole with three adorable child-men. Accompanied smoothly on guitar by the long-suffering Ricardo Lo Giudice, Fred Blin bullies his chums Patrick de Valette and Mattheiu Pillard as they try (unsuccessfully) to pull off a series of variety acts. Profoundly inept magic routines result in self-hypnosis and wobbly drag acts are ruined by Mr. de Valette’s impressive moustache. But a cheerful inability to be discouraged and an obsession with otters (don’t ask) keep the company’s heads resolutely up.

All of the spectacular failures are, of course, for show. While Mr. Blin distracts us with blithering chatter, the four-man team works in tight concert. At one point, they morph into a jazz combo (Mr. Pillard rocks his little triangle), a perfect metaphor for their integrated ease. Sure, Mr. de Valette may act like a toddler velociraptor — he gnaws on the wall briefly — but he and his fellows are a fully evolved ensemble.

Of course, everything sounds better in a French accent, and the Parisians sounded so ridiculously endearing that some audience members doubted their authenticity. Naturally, therefore, when some actual fake accents popped up in “I’m Sorry & I’m Sorry,” they suffered a bit by comparison.

The Candidatos, a two-man team of Justin Rose and Kevin Wall, take their mumming down a rather dark turn. If your idea of clowns involves rainbow wigs, then this blood-spattered lark will come as a bit of a shock. Mr. Wall, doing the fake French accent, is sidekick, best friend, and (perhaps) accidental murderer to Mr. Rose, a traveling actor. Mr. Rose’s assumed accent is a little harder to place — it’s the “all-purpose plummy” needed while reciting Shakespeare and hinting broadly for tips. The two have undeniable chemistry, and the kitchen knife sticking out of Mr. Rose’s back gives the entire piece an electric charge. Unfortunately their text (which they also wrote) has some serious holes in its middle — Mr. Rose’s character isn’t the only thing onstage with crippling internal injuries slowing him down.

But just as the audience had settled into a sense of complacency, the Red Bastard popped onstage. In a late-night performance, with onlookers already softened up by a couple of beers, the monstrous clown-creature found easy pickings. Eric Davis’s buffon creation has been around for a couple of years now, so it’s no longer such a shock when a man wearing a red stretch-suit over variously sized exercise balls plops his bulbous hindquarters into your lap and begins to abuse your very existence. But it’s still one of the strangest, sweetest pleasures to be had on the variety circuit — just relax, and let him hate you.

Until September 24 (575 Metropolitan Ave., between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street, 718-907-3457).

The New York Sun

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