Review: 500 Clown Trapped (500 Clown & Adventure Stage)

  
  

Getting stuck has never been more fun

  
  

Adrian Danzig, Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck - 500 Clown Trapped - photo by Johnny Knight

  
500 Clown and Adventure Stage Chicago presents
   
  
500 Clown Trapped
   
Conceived by Adrian Danzig
Directed by Paola Coletto
at Adventure Stage Chicago, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Teaming up with Adventure Stage Chicago, 500 Clown brings their acrobatic, improvisational storytelling style to an all-ages audience with 500 Clown Trapped. Conceived by 500 Clown artistic director Adrian Danzig, who also stars as the clown trio’s leader Bruce, Trapped finds its three characters stuck in a variety of situations that require them to use their imaginations, bodies, and comedic skills to escape. The show begins with a requisite educational discussion about music, opening conversation between the clowns and audience. Dialogue and interaction with the audience is a trademark of children’s theatre, and Bruce, Stacy (Tim Heck), and Lily (Leah Urzendowski) are constantly finding ways to make the viewer a player as well, sometimes by just walking out into the audience and turning their seats into the stage.

There’s not much plot to speak of, but the main appeal of the production is the ways the actors bring their characters to bombastic life, engrossing the audience as the clowns become further ensnared on their platform full of hamster paper. Bruce the responsible leader, Stacy the clueless goofball, and Lily the emotional wreck combine Keaton-esque slapstick with impressive acrobatic feats to escape their traps, providing comedic context through jokes and sight gags. The banter is quick and natural, and the movement swift and exaggerated, giving the show a rapid pace perfect for a young audience.

Adrian Danzig - 500 Clown Trapped

500 Clown Trapped is definitely intended for children, but there are plenty of elements that adults will be drawn to. Honestly, who doesn’t love a good pratfall? Lily’s pained rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” elevates the sinking Titanic sequence, while her flirtation with Bruce on a crashing plane elicits giggles for the grown-ups as the kids laugh at the organized chaos. And it is organized. Paola Coletto’s sharp direction has the actors utilizing the entire theater space, and the aerial movement is performed flawlessly. The cast never breaks character, and they are completely comfortable engaging with the audience, projecting a welcoming energy that encourages participation. The clowns are always aware of the audience’s reactions, often responding to the comments of excited children in the middle of a bit without ever breaking the flow. It’s clear that these are skilled improvisers, and they’re able to think quickly on their feet, under ground, or suspended in the air.

500 Clown Trapped is the first collaboration between the city’s premier clown company and one of its largest children’s theaters, and hopefully it’s the start of a fruitful relationship between the two. 500 Clown’s history with more adult material makes their approach to children’s theatre one free of condescension, perfect for parents looking for a fun night of family-friendly theater. It may be light on plot, but the 500 Clown gang definitely brings the laughs, and Trapped is a joyful show for the kid in all of us.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck, Adrian Danzig in "500 Clown Trapped", conceived by Adrian Danzig. (Photo: Johnny Knight)

All photos by Johnny Knight

  

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REVIEW: The Franklin Expedition (The Building Stage)

Franklin ends up lost once again

 

 Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago

   
The Building Stage presents
   
The Franklin Expedition
   
Conceived and Directed by Blake Montgomery
at
The Building Stage, 412 N. Carpenter (map)
Through October 30  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Billed as "A slightly delusional, historically inaccurate, fragmented portrait of a lost explorer," The Building Stage’s world premiere The Franklin Expedition centers on Sir John Franklin, a British naval officer and Arctic explorer who mapped much of the northern coastline of North America. In 1845, he set out with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to traverse the last uncharted section of the Northwest Passage, but never returned. Numerous search and rescue missions were sent, but Franklin and his 128 men were lost. An 1854 expedition interviewed Inuits and learned that the ships had become icebound. The crews had tried to reach safety on foot, resorting to cannibalism in their efforts to survive, but all succumbed to the bitter conditions. A horrified Victorian public refused to believe this account of their heroic explorers, but recent discoveries seem to bear it out. The mystery of what happened to Franklin’s expedition inspired the ballad "Lord Franklin, “Wilkie Collins,” 1856 play The Frozen Deep and a variety of other artistic works.

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 3 You won’t find any of this out by watching The Franklin Expedition. Conceived and directed by Blake Montgomery, and developed and performed by David Amaral, Pamela Maurer, Chris Pomeroy, Jon Stutzman and Leah Urzendowski, the play takes a highly stylized and very self-referential view of Franklin.

"I don’t recognize myself," the character says at one point. As well he might.

All five of the performers play Franklin at different times, often several at once — sometimes in chorus — as well as his wife, his crew, Queen Victoria and a few other characters; then they step back to examine how well their differing portraits of the man worked out. At times, it seems more like a method-acting workshop than a play.

The timeline isn’t remotely chronological, slipping from Franklin on his frozen ship to his preparations for the voyage to his imaginings of his triumphant return to his funeral and around, through and back again. Stretches range from tense to solemn to humorous to outright zany.

Some parts work well: A scene in which the very expressive Stutzman, as Franklin, valiantly tries to rally his disheartened crew; a funny and highly anachronistic session in the snow; and a post-expedition meeting between the tall and hugely comic Pomoroy as Queen Victoria and the diminutive blonde Urzendowski as Franklin. Others, such as the back-patting acting critiques and an overlong scene in which Urzendowski, as the Queen, criticizes the British restraint of Amaral, as Lord Barrow, in eulogizing the lost Franklin, are less successful.

Musical interludes by the sweetly voiced Maurer, sometimes accompanied by other cast members, include some very nice folk songs, including a lovely rendition of "Lord Franklin." The multi-talented performers accompany on fiddle, guitar, keyboards, ukulele and washboard.

It’s definitely interesting, the performances are very well done and the concept of the ever-changing Franklin quite cleverly executed. Yet, overall, the play — 90 minutes without intermission — never quite seems to come together. It seems a collection of disjointed scenes. I’d really have liked to see more history and action and less theatrical navel gazing.  

In the end, despite all these players, Franklin himself is lost.

    
   
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Franklin Expedition cast - The Building Stage Chicago 2

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