Cafe Voltaire

The funniest line in The Clownarchists is spoken by the woman at the door, who requests three dollars admission. Unfortunately, the humor of this request doesn’t become apparent until the one-hour show has begun, and by then you won’t feel like laughing anymore.

Some attempts at creativity are simply beneath criticism. Calling The Clownarchists at Cafe Voltaire inept and pointless would be a compliment–it implies that the performers deserve to be taken seriously. In fact, they can barely be called performers. They call themselves clowns, but they possess few skills, little imagination, and far too much audacity.

George Fuller, Drew Richardson, and Drue Franklin have created and perform in ten skits. The show begins with the “I Hate Clowns” song, a tune audience members are likely to start singing before they leave the building. “Hamlet Without a Net” consists of Fuller standing on two upright four-by-fours, each about a foot long, while he reads a passage from Hamlet. He falls off the two posts, of course, but he keeps climbing right back on, occasionally putting one hand on the low ceiling to steady himself. Throughout, he keeps reading–and reading and reading and reading.

Richardson makes appearances in two skits as “Arlecchino,” the “pacifist terrorist.” He takes a hostage–a pillow with two eyes taped to it–by shaking a can of Coca-Cola and threatening to open it. After making some demands, including an end to censorship and overpopulation, he tortures the hostage by holding up a picture of Ronald Reagan. Then he tapes a balloon to the pillow, attaches a fuse, and lights it. At the performance I saw, the fuse set fire to the pillow, which made me wonder whether the performance had ever been rehearsed.

Lack of rehearsal subverts two of Franklin’s potentially amusing pieces. The first consists of some not very well synchronized lip-synching to a bizarre taped sound track of rap and other noise. The other, “Madame Bouche” has one of the few flashes of wit in the show. Franklin lies on his back across two chairs so his face is hanging upside-down. He tapes two eyes to his chin and hangs a dress from his nose–and creates the Madame, who speaks to a taped sound track through Franklin’s own upside-down mouth. The effect is surreal; but again, the skit needed practice.

At least Franklin displays a wacky imagination from time to time. During his “Poetry Reading,” for example, he breaks into a recitation of a Chicago city ordinance describing, in almost lascivious detail, which parts of the female breast may be displayed in public.

The rest of the show, however, seems a deliberate attempt at inanity. In fact, I thought being absurdly inane might be the point of “The Birth of Gerald,” in which Fuller puts his arms into the legs of a pair of pants, puts half of a plastic egg over his nose to impersonate a bird, talks to a tiny doll in a cage (“Do you love me, baby in a cage?”) and then drills the doll’s head into a jelly doughnut.

But I was wrong. The skit is merely inane–unintentionally inane.

Just as it’s tempting to lend credibility to anything that appears in print, it’s tempting to find meaning and intelligence in anything that appears on a stage.

Sometimes, however, printed words mislead, and what happens on a stage is just plain pointless self-indulgence.