Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: (Montreal) Placebo (Wildside)

Clown in the Drug House
by Caitlin Murphy

Joe De Paul’s many years touring with Cirque du Soleil, honing his clowning skills, are on delightful display in his self-written one-man show. Directed by Aline Muheim, Placebo features De Paul as a non-plussed lab technician, mysteriously forced to wait (in front of us, the audience) before he is allowed to commence his daily intakes (as it turns out, of us, the audience).  In his desperate attempt to fill the awkward absence, he kills time by proudly showing off his karate moves, anthropomorphizing his potted fern, fumbling around with office supplies, calling himself from cell phone to land line, obsessively adjusting the furniture, and playing basketball with the garbage pail. 

De Paul’s comedic physical finesse is impressive

De Paul’s physical appearance lends itself well to comedy and he exploits it with both dignity and savvy.  He is small in stature (bitterly reporting that he was told he was too tall to audition for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs); mostly bald, he boasts a combover with comedic prowess of its own (it conveniently sways from his pate, as if on cue).  De Paul’s comedic physical finesse is impressive:  he repeatedly whacks his head, prat-falls off chairs, and suavely negotiates a self-created Slip ‘n Slide.  

Refining and enriching the conceptual framework for Placebo, developing some of the ideas suggested by the setting, would have added support to all this silliness.  

Essentially a bit more attention to story and stakes (often forgotten in comedy, though arguably even more crucial than they are in drama) would have added depth and coherence. At times, Placebo felt like an onslaught of unrelated antics (albeit endearing ones); offering these greater anchor in character and story would put the piece more squarely in the realm of fully rounded one-man show.  

When our exasperated lab tech is finally able to start processing clients, De Paul very admirably sustains an extended bit of audience interaction (always a potential place of derailment) and ultimately builds to a cleverly musical crescendo for the piece and a deservedly triumphant exit for himself.  

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