It’s a madcap weekend of comic mayhem as Chicago sensations 500 Clown target a pair of literary classics with in-your-face improv, commedia dell’arte and physical theater.
Beginning Friday, Nov. 5, the company will descend upon Washington University’s Edison Theatre with 500 Clown Macbeth, a boisterous romp — featuring not a single red nose, tiny car or oversized shoe — through William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of an all-too-ambitious Scott.
The following evening, Saturday, Nov. 6, will bring 500 Clown Frankenstein, a similar affront to — dare one say reanimation of? — Mary Shelley’s famous monster.
Both performances are sponsored by the Edison Ovations Series and begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35; $30 seniors; $25 for Washington University faculty and staff; and $20 for students and children.
Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
500 Clown Frankenstein
Oscillating wildly between planned elements and improvisation, 500 Clown employs an eclectic mix of theatrical styles and techniques — from vaudeville and circus arts to period costumes and action-based performance — to tell long-form dramatic stories that also embody the disruptive force of spontaneous play.
Each show begins with an innovatively designed set piece (including hi- and low-tech mechanics) that catapults the performers into situations of real physical and emotional risk. Responding with extreme, rough-style acrobatics, the clowns create a charged theatrical environment that celebrates the unpredictable power of the moment and leaves audiences to wonder at just what was planned and what was created fresh before their very eyes.
“Many performance and comedy artists — Blue Man Group is a fine example — shape and hone every moment, discarding everything that does not elicit a sensorial reaction from the paying customers,” notes the Chicago Tribune. “Not so 500 Clown. Improvisers and risk-takers to the bone, the clowns are perfectly comfortable trying things for the first time in front of an audience and seeing where they go.”
500 Clown Macbeth
500 Clown Macbeth, the company’s first creation, was unleashed in 2000 at Charybdis, a gutted bowling alley on Chicago’s Northwest side. An underground sensation, it led to the formation, the following year, of the 500 Clown company, which today comprises three performers — Molly Brennan, Adrian Danzig and Paul Kalina — along with director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig.
An unpredictable, hilarious and sometimes quite literal deconstruction, the show begins with the clowns, outfitted in tartan kilts the size of tablecloths, attempting to stage their own production of Shakespeare’s play. Yet, like the titular character, each becomes infected with an all-encompassing lust for power. Soon all three are competing for the role of Macbeth, smashing through text, walls, “fourth walls” and anything else that gets in their respective ways.
“Filter Macbeth through 500 Clown’s creative spirit and the result is a clown-driven drama infused with humor,” notes the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s safe to say Shakespeare wouldn’t recognize this Scottish play. Brennan, Danzig and Kalina have more in common with Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett than any simple circus clown.”
500 Clown Frankenstein
500 Clown Frankenstein finds the trio attempting to reconstruct the good doctor’s infamous laboratory. Bound in elaborate Edwardian costumes, they struggle through a variety of acrobatic feats, including an extended battle with an unruly operating table — all while stitching together bits of Shelley’s classic novel and scraps of various Hollywood retellings. Yet when one clown is forced into the role of the tragic Creature, comic mayhem takes a sharp and the situation escalates towards a devastating climax.
“The intensely physical shows feature variations on such clownish conventions as the seltzer spray and spit-take (re-imagined in a laughably macabre way); a madcap chase that recalls the Keystone Kops; and nose- tweaking/eye-poking antics straight out of a Three Stooges short,” notes the Chicago Daily Herald. “But 500 Clown delivers more than thrills, perilous props and old-school shtick. There’s pathos behind the pratfalls, and real drama underscores the well-conceived, broadly comic and carefully choreographed productions.”
Founded in 1973, the Edison Ovations Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis.
Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The Ovations season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
WHO: 500 Clown
WHAT: 500 Clown Macbeth and 500 Clown Frankenstein
WHEN: 500 Clown Macbeth: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5;
WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
TICKETS: $35; $30 for seniors; $25 for WUSTL faculty and staff; $20 for students and children. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets