BWW Review: CLOWN BAR Serves Up a Cocktail of Comical Clown-Noir at THEATRE DOWNTOWN.
"Clown Bar" is an original comedy hybrid that defies the odds. The elements of film noir crime drama, burlesque, torch songs, shoot ups, and clowns blend together perfectly. The energetic harmony in the show is rooted in escaping into this unexplored world. A world that you wish you could visit. Just remember Clown Bar's No. 1 rule: "There are no rules in the Clown Bar." Writer Adam Szymkowicz's delivers a tightly stacked comedy. Highlights are well-crafted, comedic word play, quirky characters, and stand out, robust deliveries of a talented cast. They are not playing for laughs. They are living for them.
This pulp fiction novel stained with grease paint is a detective tale set on the mean streets of the clown underworld. Happy (Jonathan Sweatt ) is an ex-clown headliner turned detective. He returns to his old stomping grounds on a vengeance to flush out the clown who killed his brother Timmy (Zach Tarwater); a tragically unfunny clown shot dead. The familiar 40's crime trope infused with clown characters make this an absurdly creative, and comical "clown-noir." The consistent torrent of gags, one liners, and pratfalls keep the audience guessing into what shenanigans are going to happen next. It's unpredictable and brash without going off the deep end. There are so many surprises that I hesitate to go further into the detail of the plot. I will just say the story holds colorful characters in a crime comedy farce.
The clown rouges gallery of the "Clown Bar" include seedy Giggles (Lesli Johnson), strong armed Twinkles (Tuck Stevens), bubble headed Petunia (Catherine Champion, scorching Blinky Fatale (Christina Robin), the big cheese Bobo (Scott Nesmith), trigger happy Shotgun McGhee (Ken Saunders, silver voice crooner Dusty (Mark Nelson), and playing the keys Piantomime (Flannery Whaley). The show highlight for me is the villainous Popo (Penny Thomas). Her scene stealing performance is so steeped in comedy brilliance; it will have you crying with laughter.
Director Bates Redwine's energetic approach tosses you a decadently irreverent comedy pie. Even though it goes all over your face, you still oddly want more. Bates comical staging, and attention to comedy dynamics provide an effective Looney Tunes tone. The show is a clown car filled comedic gold, but also shines with original music by local actress and musician Flannery Whaley (Piantomime). She is no stranger to the Theatre Downtown stage. For years she has composed memorable music for shows like "Dragula" and "Skanks in a One Horse Town." Whaley's music and Mark Nelson's (Dusty) smooth vocals gives 'Clown Bar" a signature jazzy, cool sound that satisfies.
The incredibly expressive make up and costumes by Mel Christian and Alex Ungerman are the icing on the cake. Each clown has a colorful and distinctive costume and make up. Imagine how Emmett Kelly would look after a week at Burning Man.
The set by Bates Redwine and Dan Reese is decked out as if Dean Martin and Bozo the Clown opened a back alley speakeasy. The colors, and design pop as if you are inside an old cigar lounge in the back of a big top circus. The play runs without and intermission. Don't let that sway you for the tight pacing gives the total run time about an hour and change.
"Clown Bar" is a dive worth visiting. The place is gritty with comical cotton candy chaos, and Ringling Bros' raunchy. If you order your drinks extra funny, you may end up running a tab.
"Clown Bar" By Adamn Szymkowicz
Directed by Bates Redwine - Music Composition/Direction by Flannery Whaley
Starring: Jonathan Sweatt, Mark Nelson, Lesli Johnson, Ken Saunders, Catherine Champion, Tuck Stevens, Zach Tarwater, Penny Thomas, Christina Robin, Scott Nesmith.
Theatre Downtown . Sept 19 - Oct 5
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 8pm
(Sept. 26 is Hobo Night, when you only pay what you can afford)
Theatre Downtown. 2410 5th Ave S, (in Fifth Ave Antiques) Birmingham, AL.
Tickets and more info at www.theatredowntown.org or at (205) 565- 8838
Photo Credit - Steven Ross