Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right… No, it’s not a Stealers Wheel reunion. It’s Theatre on Fire’s outrageous CLOWN BAR (playing @ Charlestown Working Theatre through Oct. 24th). This “Clown Noir” (by Adam Szymkowicz) sends a tough talking detective (in fedora and trench coat just like those old movie sleuths) to a notorious burlesque/clown cafe in search of the lowlife who killed his brother.
If you know the authentic “milieu” of clowndom, then you know that clown violence is always funny, just like Harold Lloyd in a Model T careening off a cliff. You just give yourself over to the premise. Clowns with guns—and I don’t mean the NRA—are like spit takes and pratfalls and small cars with twelve occupants. The territory is surreal and the comedy is black (and a touch blue).
Director Darren Evans has a crackerjack cast of zanies and “underground” operators anyone of whom coulda dunnit. Christopher Sherwood Davis’ cop is all business until he’s reunited with the stripper (Emma Goodman) he’s always adored. The story really takes off when Goodman does. Then she and the cop engage in the funniest foreplay this side of Ringling Brothers. Just pulling his tie off is a sizeable victory.
The pièce de résistance is the arrival of Bobo, the capo of the Russian clown mafia. (Who knew there even was such an organization?) Jeff Gill does menace like nobody else (having previously terrified us at Theatre on Fire as an uneven handed avenger and as the powerful, punishing Old Testament God). He’s even scary when he’s whispering.
No one wants to mess with Bobo or his sister (Chelsea Ruscio) who wears an apron bloodier than Mrs. Lovett’s. Not Terry Torres’ gruff voiced prankster nor Craig Houk’s sleazy intimidator nor Annie Jean Hochheiser’s sweet trickster nor Marcus Hunter’s inexplicably named Giggles nor Christopher Wagner’s bizarre crooner. Especially not Macmillan Leslie’s jonesing Pagliacci. Even us. Word to the wise: Give him a wide berth.
If you like your clowns sullen and contentious, then this creepy circus is for you. B Y O popcorn. They supply the noses.