Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wisey Best Clown: All of them! Especially Mark Bedard, OSF

The nominations for best clown are:

Chris Ensweiler, The Servant of Two Masters, Seattle Shakespeare Company
Chris Bell, Elephant's Graveyard, Balagan Theatre
Mark Bedard, The Servant of Two Masters, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Orion Protonentis, Titus Andronicus, GreenStage
Kerry Ryan, The Tempest and The Servant of Two Masters, Seattle Shakespeare Company
Fanny Tragic, Schmorgasborg, Balagan Theatre
Matt Hornbeck, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Theater Schmeater
Armando Duran, All's Well That Ends Well, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

We saw a wonderful variety of clowns this year showcasing the role of clown in theater, so we just had to create a special new category just for 2009 of "best clown." These clowns are physical, corporeal, and acrobatic, as likely to do their thing with pantomime and juggling and other physical arts as with speech. They're usually disguised or masked. In some way, they're outside or aside of the community portrayed in the play, which often means they're interacting with the audience in a way the other characters aren't. They may be of another place or no place or are traveling from or to somewhere else (as in the tradition of the tramp or hobo clown). They're transgressors; they break boundaries and rules, they're outrageous and uninhibited tricksters, they interrupt and disrupt, and do and say things no one else can. And all of that together is why they bother us, scare us, and make us laugh.

Armando Duran played the clown in All's Well That Ends Well at Oregon Shakespeare Festival as an observer in the hobo/tramp tradition, and figured prominently in the play's somewhat surprise ending. He was revealed through "home movies" as reliving and reflecting on Helena and Bertram's story—his deceased parents—as he picks up a suitcase and leaves the stage.

Kerry Ryan was nominated as much for her clown skills and talents as for the roles she played. We saw her as Trinculo the jester in The Tempest and Smeraldina in The Servant of Two Masters, both at Seattle Shakespeare Company (and we just saw her again at this past week's 14/48: The World's Quickest Theatre Festival). Her physical clowning and comedy are terrific, and the program confirms that she is an experienced puppeteer, dancer, and physical comedian. It shows.

Matt Hornbeck gets special mention for stamina and endurance as Klaus, the Apprentice in Theater Schmeater's outdoor The Sorcerer's Apprentice this summer. He was equal to all of the audience interaction, and it was especially fun to see him engaging the little kids.

Funniest clown EVER was burlesque clown Fanny Tragic in two routines at Schmorgasborg, Balagan Theatre's late-night theater mash-up. One routine involved an air-inflated Peeps costume, but the one that really had me splitting my sides was the snuggie strip tease. Unforgettable!

We saw some disturbing clowns, too. As a child I was afraid of a clown portrait that hung in a relative's house. Now that imagine is supplanted by Orion Protonentis, playing Aaron in Titus Andronicus (GreenStage, indoors), as a particularly evil, maniacal clown. He was funny and horrifying and creepy and irresistible.

And Chris Bell was the most moving clown of all, playing a circus clown in Balagan Theatre's Elephant's Graveyard. That makeup really runs when tears are streaming down his face, and I loved the way his physicality was so often directed to producing sounds which became part of the score of the play.

Chris Ensweiler was delightful as Truffaldino in Seattle Shakes' The Servant of Two Masters, a classic commedia dell'arte Harlequin role, playing off his fellow cast members with perfect timing.

We were lucky enough to see Servant twice this year, and in a tough decision, the nod for Best Clown of 2009 goes to Mark Bedard as Truffaldino in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production. His performance was physically demanding, funny, and commanding. He was perfectly in character and self-referentially funny as he encountered our particular Saturday afternoon performance's surprises, including a cell phone dropped on stage, an audience member who tried to be as funny as Bedard (he wasn't), and some wayward fake blood.

A big thanks to all our clowns this year and the companies and productions that tickled us with these smart, funny, naughty roles.

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