Tuesday, March 20, 2012

THEATER: That Beautiful Laugh

Photo/The Artigiani Troupe
I think I've figured out why some people are afraid of clowns: it's because they're kids who have never grown up. It can be a little frightening to see adults so recklessly free, so literally lost in their own world; what is excusable in children as an exploratory, exhilarating phase is, all grown up, is almost menacingly silly. (Inane is only a letter removed from insane.) This is worth noting not because Orlando Pabotoy's clown show, That Beautiful Laugh, nor his talented performers, are bad -- they are quite good! -- but because the looseness of the affair provokes a certain tension, even at La MaMa: they might do anything to get a laugh!

Over the course of slightly more than an hour, we'll join the brave yet comparatively incompetent Flan (Alan Tudyk), shy yet physically dominant Ian (Carlton Ward), and deliberate yet excitable Darla Waffles Something (Julia Ogilvie) as they show off their comic repertoire to an unborn egg, hoping to make it fly, either through physical or levit(y)ational means. There's a dance with stilts, and a creepy shadow-puppet song about the "Scary City," plus a "rule of threes" series of performances that include Flan's cryptic non-act (that may actually be fairly impressive); Darla's nonsensical "feats," like attempting to yo-yo with one's mouth; and Ian's "DAHN-gerous" arsenal of the everyday: a clothes hangar, plastic bag, and hula hoop -- kids, do not try this at home!

Still, one wishes That Beautiful Laugh had set the bar a bit higher; the production, like Scott Tedmon-Jones's pull-curtain set, is somewhat primitive, and while there's charm in building something from a ragtag nothingness, it's a wearying sort. According to Flan's fairy-tale prologue, the goal is to restore true laughs to a land that has forgotten them (it still has squiggly, nervous, and Santa ones, to name a few), and yet the show seems happy -- if the final sequence is any indication -- to conjure up and bottle any old laugh. To this end, there's a lot of cheap humor and a lack of developed running gags and/or punchlines: it's what you'd expect of children playing at dress-up, not of adults playing at comedy.

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