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: Float (About Face Theatre)

  
  

‘FLOAT’ rises to the top

  
  

float - About Face Theatre

   
About Face Theatre presents
   
FLOAT
   
Written by Patricia Kane
Directed by
Leslie B. Danzig
at Theater Wit, 1220 W. Belmont (map)
through December 12th  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

In writing, archetypes are a gift and a burden. On one hand, they serve as shorthand characterization, eliminating the need for lengthy and clunky exposition. On the other hand, they are trite, predictable and rather one-dimensional. The trick as a writer is to toe this line. A good playwright will draft characters that rely on familiar characteristics while embodying personalities that are wholly original.

About Face’s world premier of Patricia Kane‘s FLOAT, a play about five Midwestern women forced to confront life’s big issues, could have become a cartoon. After all, it’s fun to mock small-town Midwestern mindsets and the cluckiness of female gossipmongers. And it’s also easy. Instead, Kane takes the high road and delivers a complex and compelling script that is edge-of-your-seat entertaining from beginning to end. Oh, don’t doubt that there’s a good dose of humor – but the laughs are underpinned by the many layers of conflict that bring these five women to life.

The play takes place in Doodee’s (Wendy Robie) barn. By her nature, she is a taskmaster and has taken it upon herself to spearhead the development of the women society’s annual Christmas float. Doodee is joined by her fellow society members, including the young Luce (Amy Matheny), real estate broker Char (Rengin Altay), the difficult Arletta (Peggy Roeder) and the new girl in town Marty (Adrienne Cury).

As the characters construct the holiday float in the first act, conversations turn to matters of religion and ethics. Old-timers Doodee and Arletta are stuck in their ways. In their opinion, there is a right and a wrong, and people deserve to be judged for their indiscretions. Luce, Marty and Char are more forgiving. In fact, Marty fondly quotes the Buddha, choosing to live by the code of live and let live.

By the end of the first act, the cheeriness that had filled the room earlier has faded as unpleasant secrets are revealed. Conflicts arise not just from exterior sources, but also from within as well. And Doodee is left decorating the float alone, listening to holiday songs while on the verge of tears. It’s a powerful act break that makes you resent intermission.

With Kane’s gift for writing and the cast’s gift for performance, this play is near perfection. Kane has molded three-dimensional characters with extraordinarily full lives and back stories. It is because of how thoroughly we know these characters that we can connect with them on such a deep level. In addition, I found no action or piece of dialogue to be out of character. Each woman was distinct and consistent in her nature.

Of course, these accolades can also be attributed to the actresses. Not one is a weak link. From Arletta’s manic episodes to Doodee’s brooding scowl to Marty’s love-struck smirk, the actresses’ genuineness, care and thought shine through. I can easily see the onstage chemistry congealing even more throughout the duration of the run.

Leslie B. Danzig‘s direction is nearly flawless. The whole play takes place in one cramped barn bustling with five scrambling women. Yet, through careful blocking, Danzig manages to give the actors some space, except of course when they are sharing an embrace under the mistletoe.

There was one small scene I’d like to see performed differently. In the second act, Marty conducts an exercise with the widowed Arletta to help her deal with her grief. The scene ends with an interesting revelation from Arletta, but the whole thing goes by too quickly. My recommendation is to slow this scene down, let it breath and it will feel more natural.

FLOAT is a wonderful holiday treat that pleases on a variety of levels. It’s funny, it’s sincere and it’s thought provoking. Plus, it’s got a dynamite cast. If you’re tired of all the holiday fluff that gets thrown on stage this time of year, check out FLOAT.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★