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Review: Theatre Project Welcomes Back Happenstance With BROUHAHA

If your internal default setting is "silly," and the event horizon approaches "catastrophic," does that change you, or it? The proper answer, is, of course, "Yes," because allowing only two options is an example of overly linear thinking, about which is precisely what clown is NOT.

I make plans to review the show, because, as my companion succinctly stated, "You had me at Happenstance," despite personal circumstances and complications that make me wish to ostrich for a fortnight or so. The performance turns out to be just what I need in this moment.

It's Mother's Day weekend, the O's are in town and so is Flower Mart. Parking has every right to be horrible, but it isn't. Sure, Preston Street's fairly full, but there are side streets, pay lots and a large garage across from both Theatre Project and the Meyerhoff.

The publicity postcard for BROUHAHA that I pick up in the lobby depicts Happenstance's performance troupe in a setting and pose that is curiously bleak, more noir than Cabaret Noir, more macabre than Cabaret Macabre. I think I might need a drink.

Given my choices of water, wine, soda and beer, I choose beer. Something about the postcard makes me think BROUHAHA is not a wine kind of show. Beer snobs, fair warning: I like Natty Boh. If you'd like to argue whether Boh is properly classified as 'beer', take it up with me elsewhen. At a bar. Where you can buy me a Boh.

Entrance music is mournful, ominous and full of non-specific muffled booms. The stark non-set is a tall concave alcove, original purpose unknown, which becomes a vertical basin perfect for catching shadows.

And then the show begins and I take exactly no notes at all. Yes, be impressed.

If I frighten you with words like existential, avant garde, absurdist, ironic and non-linear, let me reassure you with words like lyrical, endearing, vulnerable, stalwart and hopeful. In a departure from their usual character, costume and prop-heavy presentations, the crew of Happenstance gives us a mere six personages with whom to identify, commiserate and converse.

Wait, excuse me, what? Did that woman just say "converse"? As in... conversation? As in.... Characters... speaking? ME? Why, yes, yes, I did. And I also just used a whole lot of punctuation. What of that? This troupe doesn't smash the fourth wall as much as part it gently, like a curtain, peeping through with a quiet cough so as not to frighten anyone.

Ahem. Simply six characters, but not six simple characters, no; far from it. Each of them wears an archetypical mantle, which gradually reveals multiple fascinating layers beneath. There are only ten or so actual physical props, some of which are musical instruments, some of which become furniture, and everything else is invisible and created on the spot.

The performers of Happenstance Theater engage, intrigue, cavort, emote and display both physical precision and a remarkable range of organically produced sound effects. BROUHAHA's story, insofar as there is a story, lies in the development of the relationship between this cadre of classical clowns and the newcomers- that is to say, us, the audience. We become conspirators in the greatest of comi-tragic secrets: even in the direst of times, there is yet opportunity for playfulness and joy.

At the end of it all, when it's time to stand and be counted, you'll be glad you did.

Theatre Project hosts BROUHAHA through May 22: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM, with an additional Matinee at 2 PM on Saturday May 21st. For information and tickets, go to or call the box office at 410-752-8558.

You can also visit Happenstance Theater at
Theatre Project is located at 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201.

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