Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Shakespeare's Interactive Circus

In The Company of Fools
Shakespeare's Interactive Circus and Algonquin are a happy marriage
by Jim Murchison

I went to the Algonquin Theatre School not quite knowing what to expect. A Company of Fools production would have a tendency to be unpredictable anyway, but this was one performed by students without any members of the Company of Fools in the cast. 

Director Al Connors wisely allowed the students to find their own inner clown rather than putting them into the uncomfortable situation of imitating their teachers Scot Florence or Margo MacDonald whose characters Pomme Frit and Restes are Ottawa’s most recognizable clowns.

The premise of Shakespeare’s Interactive Circus is that Sir Richard, the star of Coriolanus has gone AWOL and forced the company into blindly running whatever Shakespearean scenes that they feel they can pull off. The result is sometimes uneven, but when it works it really works.

After a perfunctory introduction, Alain DJ Big Willy Shake Chauvin kicks things off with a hip hop version of Romeo and Juliet. Peterh Catalfamo was the principal driver of the lyric, but the entire cast deserves full marks for taking this to the limit. There is little memorable about the section on Titus Andronicus. The pace lagged considerably and the humour fell flat on occasion.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was better, most notably Sam Kellerman’s Thisby done as Rocky Horror Picture Show’s  Frankenfurter with a Cee Lo Green falsetto. This part was more closely faithful to the Shakespearean interpretation because the characters were written by Shakespeare as clowns. 

That Scottish play was fantastic. The section where the fools play Macbeth is the most whimsical and wild part of the evening and Catalfamo again is the strongest in the title role, playing with a Scottish accent that had the audience howling with laughter. Macbeth played as a musical comedy is an absurdly funny concept and had musical numbers parodying everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Tokens and Queen that made this section fly.

Julius Caesar was okay, but Samuel Morgan’s interpretive dance of King Lear is truly what clowning is about. Clowning is all about not being afraid to be totally ridiculous. Morgan as King Lear or KL to his homies, is fearless in selling this dance and the rest of the cast are a storm of fun. It is the total earnestness of everyone involved that makes the ridiculous sublime.

Wrestling tag team Taming of the Shrew gave the Maggie MatianMichelle Stewart and Shekinha Wright a chance to play duelling Kates and it was good fun but a little too close to call. Sam Kellerman had earlier done a pretty good Thisby in Midsummer Night’s Dream, but got a little lost as Petruchio. Samuel Morgan and Earl Carriere carried on fighting off multiple stinging Kates while Morgan had to deal with his fly being down. There was an excellent opportunity there to play the moment more. The possibility of bringing the audience in to this vulnerable situation could have made this a scene stealing wardrobe malfunction.

Ryan Acheson and Peterh Catalfamo even take part in the match as battling Batistas and that puts the cap on an entertaining evening. The audience enjoyed it very much because the cast truly had a good time.

While very few actors end up doing improvisational comedy on a regular basis and fewer still become identified with a single character, like Marcel Marceau’s Pip or Chaplin’s Little Tramp, every good school tries to develop that connection to that true kernel of self known as the clown. By learning how to tone something down or exaggerate a moment at just the right time you grow closer to understanding the true essence of comedy. It is a great tool to have in your tool box and having teachers that are working professionals is an excellent benefit for the students. Things are set up well for the graduating class monologues later this month.

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