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Monday, 08 November 2010 00:23

500 Clown Frankensetin: probably not Mary Shelly-approved

Written by Laura Kyro
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500 Clown Frankensetin: probably not Mary Shelly-approved

The Washington University Ovations Series continued its 2010–2011 offerings with a performance of 500 Clown Frankenstein, by 500 Clown, a theatrical group out of Chicago. Taking over the University's Edison Theatre for two nights--the first night with their take on Macbeth, and the second with Frankenstein--the company offered the audience physical tomfoolery, flights of fancy, strange and inventive costumes, unlikely situations, faux physical abuse, and, in a word, nonsense. The results were interesting. Interesting, but not necessarily entertaining.

In their introductory information the company indicates they like to explore theatre through "risk and play," giving a production a "clown's eye examination." They also stress the contribution of the audience as a partner in the experience, making each show different. In these endeavors I believe they succeeded, but I still walked out of the theatre thinking that was 70 minutes I wasn't getting back.

The performance began before the scheduled start time with two of the three-member troupe (Adrian Danzig, Paul Kalina, Leah Urzendowski) coming out to set props and interact with the audience. Once Director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig's show officially began, all was unformed and strange, including turning out the lights in the theatre altogether (with one cast member stepping over rows of the audience in the dark and much bumbling about running into and falling over things), pratfalls and collisions, extensive climbing of and interaction with the single set piece (a large, hinged table and extensions) (Set Designer Dan Reilly), running up and down the in aisles, soliciting pieces of clothing from the audience, physical abuse (slapping and squashing), verbal sound effects, and general mayhem. To my mind, the only things missing were 1) a story, and 2) some kind of logic as to what was going on and why.

Yes, compliments need to go to the timing, spatial precision, and physicality needed for various stunts, the interesting costumes and makeup (including strangely red ears and fingertips), some unique lighting situations (Lighting Designer Lee Keenan), and use of the entire theatre (not just the stage). But I felt the connection of this production to anything Frankenstein might have been that they waved Mary Shelly's book over the script a few times.

That said, most of the audience was on its feet at the conclusion (and not just to walk out!), thereby seeming to indicate most of the people had a good time. And isn't that the goal of any theatrical production?

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