Asylum 137, at Viaduct Theatre. A large roll of brown wrapping paper figures in the action, but the audience is not forced to flounder in paper as at Blue Man Group. The three zanies in this show are less interested in creating mayhem than in exploring varieties of clowning, from the broad big-top style predominating in America to the darker approach more often found in Europe–a distinction vividly demonstrated when Jonathan Taylor’s cheery-faced Mr. Vandemer retreats momentarily to reemerge as a leering guignol. Asylum 137 also refers to old-fashioned vaudeville slapstick as well as the shamanist trickster-clown of the American southwest, notably in the raccoon makeup worn by Anthony M. Courser’s Mr. Kroup. And unlike many clowns, these frequently give voice, sometimes to ingenuous monosyllables but just as often to eloquent poetry (further aural assistance, ranging from disco to Rossini, is provided by deejay Brian G).

What’s in the show (“inconspicuously directed by Clown Goddess Sue Morrison”) varies from night to night at the whim of the performers but might include anything from standard-repertoire “mad surgeon” shtick to topical satire, such as the “arms race” begun by Voki Kalfayan’s Dr. Koshari with make-believe weapons that escalates into actual firearms.

Spectators are deluged with a flood of something before departing, but don’t worry–you won’t have to wash it off.

–Mary Shen Barnidge