Playhouse ‘Clowns’ not humorous

The Alive Theatre, now in its second year, presents “Four Clowns.” Now playing at the Long Beach Playhouse, the performance follows each of its four characters through unconventional stages of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death. However, the production lacks comedy and leaves audiences dumbfounded.

“Clowning,” a theatrical style used in many forms, can be traditionally painted faces, more natural characterizations and even religious outreach groups like “Clowns for Christ.” Though there are memorable moments, a solid foundation in clowning is missing from the performances and overall concept of “Four Clowns.”

The shortcomings seem to come from the script and direction of Jeremy Aluma. Noted in the program as being created by Aluma, the cast and Quincy Newton, the production misses the mark in its integration of clowning and realism.

With a narrow view of sex, processing difficult experiences and of verbal expression to boot, the audience is bombarded with over-the-top sex scenes and cussing in misconstrued attempts at being relatable. Instead of satiric commentary on society and the human experience, the clowns mostly play at emotions. Certain strong points of characterizations are found when the focus is more based on the simplicity of bullying and the “Whatever!” attitude of teenagers, rather than trying too hard to make scenarios funny when they just are not.

The costume and makeup designs tap into the vein of more traditional clown styles, and the funky ties and exaggerated painted expressions are fun. Pianist Mario Granville is a decent player and adds atmosphere, but his hammy expressions and periodic involvement in the action are distracting and annoying.

Props are minimal and the choices of what to mime and what to actually hold are confounding. The set and lighting are also minimal and, though the production does not have a huge need for it, it does lack a clearer direction in designs and cues at times, such as a helpful variation in lighting to discern the moments of audience participation.

The cast is allowed to improvise, it seemed throughout, and given freedom to heckle those leaving to use the restroom during the show, providing bits of laughter, though still exposing the need for more training of the actors.

Signs in the lobby are posted as a warning of “adult content” and that the play might offend, but the only offensive element is that the bulk of the material isn’t adult content at all, but is repetitive and self-indulgent.

The program’s tagline simply states: “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” It is obvious that they want viewers to find humor in even the toughest moments of life, but overworking for laughs rather than allowing the moments to occur naturally flaws the production. The dead air pause after each death is painful rather than meaningful, as we feel little to no emotional connection to the characters’ stories. This show needs a few prescriptions for maximum health.

On Saturday night, one audience member remarked that the show was “too weird for her” while another left saying that she “failed to see how this was supposed to be entertaining.”

Alive Theatre’s production of “Four Clowns” plays through March 19 at the Long Beach Playhouse. Tickets cost $10. 

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