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EMAV Review: 'Clown Bar' is hard boiled, and hilarious at Majestic Rep

★★★★★ - Irresistible

Majestic Repertory Theatre Company presents an irresistible 5-Star production of Clown Bar, Adam Szymkowicz’s provocative parody of Fritz Lang 1940s film noir thrillers.

A hardboiled detective returns to his old watering hole to avenge the underworld murder of his brother -- and rekindle an old flame. There's whiskey-soaked dialogue, sexy molls, a hooker with a heart of gold, and more gunplay than a Tarantino flick.

But these ain't just any old gangsters – they’re gangster clowns!

Happy (the hardboiled detective) learns that Timmy (his junkie brother) is found dead. So Happy must return to his former life as a clown to ask a few questions. Happy left the Clown Bar and the organized clown crime world long ago, to work for the good guys. Can he survive the gun toting clowns who used to be his friends or “Blinky”, the lady clown he left behind?

My brother “was a good kid,” Happy recalls. “ ’Cept when he wasn’t.” Petunia, a sexy clown-waitress, replies, “It’s an uncomfortable way to go, death by shooting.”

From the very instant that the audience walks into the present day saloon that doubles as a cabaret, everyone interacts with antisocial clowns, listens to satirical torch songs, applauds risqué burlesque, and is swept up into the off-color humor befitting the cynical attitudes and sexual motivations of the noir genre.

At this joint the regulars wear clown makeup and costumes, and speak in the hard-boiled slang of 1930s gangsters. There are dames and goons, guns and booze, and all the characters keep straight faces despite their ridiculous get-ups. Imagine Sam Spade with a badge, meeting a crew of embittered Bozos.

Director Troy Heard has adeptly cast and directed this talented acting ensemble to “work the entire room”. To a character they mingle closely and contentedly with patrons throughout their performances.

The uniquely crafted clown costumes (designed by The Design Ninjas) are peopled by topnotch talent most comfortable in their respectively outrageous skins! Among the men, Bryan Todd, Alexander C. Sund, Josh Sigal and Timothy Cummings keep us on the edge of our seats as unshakable members of the clown mob. Cory Benway’s touching song delivery and interpretation of “Dusty” is one of a soulful sad sack. Andrew Young’s portrayal of Happy’s dead brother, “Timmy” -- the classic, whiteface clown, always appearing in flashback -- is truly touching. In the lead role of “Happy”, Richie Villafuerte gives a solid Sam Spade interpretation of the determined former clown turned detective.

As for the three Lady Clowns, they have more balls than the so called ''men'' -- coupled with a deadly supply of feminine wiles, beauty and girlish bounty. Rebecca Reyes (“Popo”) is sweet as the youthful pinwheel girl, who’s also handy with a gun. Natalie Senecal (“Petunia”) is the sumptuously sexy cocktail waitress all too willing to share her wares. Kady Heard (“Blinky”) is the quintessential femme fatale whose uniquely choreographed introduction comes by way of a reverse strip tease burlesque routine. Later in the evening, Kady’s flexibility and dancing prowess reveal other mysterious and seductive charms that ensnare Happy in bonds of irresistible desire, leading to a humorous sadomasochistic ballet.

All of the remaining production elements worked well and served to support the action throughout: set design by Alison Mercado; lighting design by Jody Caley; and sound design by Cory Covell.

Clown Bar premiered in New York City with the Pipeline Theatre in April, 2013. It’s been variously described as dark comedy, farce, mystery/thriller, and parody/spoof. When Jonas Schwartz saw the surreal off-Broadway hit in Los Angeles he noted in that, “By recasting stock characters as clowns, he (Szymkowicz) has bastardized the familiar with the deranged, giving a silly effect.”

Adam Szymkowicz is the literary manager of the Playwrights Program at The Juilliard School. His plays have been produced throughout the U.S., and in Canada, England, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and Lithuania. Adam also has a blog in which he has interviewed more than 750 playwrights.

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