by David Lally · May 27, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #99 David Lally looks at Four Clowns at The Club at La MaMa
I don’t like to drop the F word too often because I think it’s terribly overused but I will drop a few bombs regarding Four Clowns, now playing at The Club at La Mama, Etc. It’s funny, fast paced and a fantastic way to spend your evening.
The Four Clowns are one woman, Alexis Jones as the sad one, and three men, Kevin Klein as the mischievous one, Raymond Lee as the angry one and Amir Levi as the nervous one. They execute twelve scenes showing life’s defining moments in three chapters—childhood, adolescence and adulthood—with a musical number preceding each chapter. Who knew clowns could sing? But these Clowns do, and quite well. And all the songs are quite tuneful. The fact that they manage to capture each moment of these chapters so spot on is remarkable. They are able to touch on so many subjects both directly and indirectly like coming out or the sexual power of women, sibling rivalry, abusive parents, the homeless, even domestic violence, murder and suicide. By broaching these subjects in clown face and tempering the darkness of these subjects with the humor of recognition, the Four Clowns hit a bull’s-eye every time.
Going clown by clown, each deserves special mention:
Raymond Lee as the angry clown was amazing to watch. I could not take my eyes off him. He completely embodied every character he had to perform, not just by voices or looks, but somehow through almost a miraculous physical transformation. He was equally believable as a big, steroid-laced weightlifter or a 3 year old little boy.
Kevin Klein as the mischievous clown had, hands down, the best facial expressions and the most manic energy and he also commanded the stage each time he was on.
Alexis Jones as the sad clown gave the most emotionally-laden performance, seamlessly shifting from hilarious to poignant as one of her recurring characters kept having tragedy after tragedy befall her and asking Margaret, an audience member, if it would ever get better. Margaret’s answer of “Maybe” was eventually deciphered as sometimes maybe means “no”.
Amir Levi as the nervous clown moved gracefully and robustly through each of his characters, playing both male and female with aplomb.
There is a fifth clown, albeit not on stage and not in clown makeup, and that is pianist Amir Khosrowpour, who interacts seamlessly with his musical accompaniment and repartee with the other four.
The fast pace of the show did not deter me from knowing who each and every clown was portraying from minute to minute and there were enough recurring characters that you really got the sense that you were following a plot like in a traditional play as we got to see the same recurring characters in different stages of their lives. The healthy dose of improvisation sprinkled throughout the show was in fine form, not just on stage, but off. My favorite moment was when one of the audience members was caught with her cell phone out and the Four Clowns descended upon her for her lack of theatre etiquette. When she said she was just trying to take a picture, the nervous clown said, “Oh, trying to take a picture of a show in a theater? Now that’s acceptable behavior!” They then recruited her to be the audience participant in one of their scenes of improvisation that was hysterical.
My theatre companion for the evening said “Now why isn’t this stuff on Broadway?” As talented as this group is and as much as this is so much better than about 90% of what is currently playing, shows like this do not do well in larger venues. The intimacy of The Club at La Mama, Etc. is what makes this show work and the accessibility of the performers is what makes the audience relate. A real nice touch was the announcement that the clowns would come out after they got out of their makeup and costumes after the show to talk with members of the audience. All were accessible as well as their standout director Jeremy Aluma, who also conceived the show.
I was very pleased to learn that this show has been nominated and won several awards, including the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Award for Best in Physical Theatre and Dance, the 2010 Bitter Lemons Nomination for Most Outrageous Theatre, a 2011 Ovation Recommendation, the 2011 San Francisco Fringe Award for Best of the Fringe, a 2011 Minnesota Fringe Encore Performance Invitation and a 2012 Hollywood Fringe Nomination for Best Comedy. All well-deserved and I hope this is not the last time I see this group perform in New York City so that they may get the chance to add a few NYC trophies to their crowded mantelpiece. One more F word: fly to the The Club at La Mama, Etc. because there are only three more chances to see this show.