Theater Review: FOUR CLOWNS and STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS (L.A. – Hollywood)

by Harvey Perr on May 20, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for Theater Review: FOUR CLOWNS and STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS (L.A. – Hollywood)

ONCE-A-WEEK

Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre):

Four Clowns at Sacred Fools and Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre)  If you’d like to take a pleasant leisurely stroll down a very narrow path abloom with fresh wildflowers and strewn with patches of weeds, I recommend Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. What’s puzzling here is how a subject as controversial as same-sex marriage should yield such a lightweight middlebrow entertainment. But if you call upon nine playwrights to contribute nine ten-minute plays – as director Brian Shnipper, who conceived the idea, has done – it should come as no surprise that the evening will vary in quality. Most of the playlets preach to the choir, which is also not unexpected. Also, alas, these plays are not performed, they are read. Since these are, in truth, extended sketches, more anecdotal than theatrical, more verbal than dramatic, a “reading,” which is a fairly new phenomenon (allowing for simple sets and name actors who might not commit to a full production), is not necessarily a bad idea. But a reading is not a performance and, no matter how crisply professional the actors are –and the cast I saw was all that – what you get is indication and gesture rather than the nuances and subtle shadings of character you might expect from a full-out performance.

Four Clowns at Sacred Fools and Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre)Oddly enough, it works best when the material is more superficial. Julie Hagerty seemed to be having a grand old time mining the possibility of comic gold in Paul Rudnick’s otherwise silly trifle, “The Gay Agenda,” playing a woman who is infinitely more homophobic than she knows. And in Doug Wright’s “On Facebook,” which amasses a series of Facebook “comments” on the subject, the actors are quite fine in getting all there is to get in a work whose clever conceit far surpasses its content. And José Rivera’s “Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words” has a lot of fun with wordplay during the course of a marriage ceremony that brings out the best in its talented actors.

Four Clowns at Sacred Fools and Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre)  But the best plays of the evening – “London Mosquitoes” by Moisés Kaufman, which is a poignant and deeply felt elegy for a long-time lover who has died before he and his partner could finally be legally married; and Neil LaBute’s “Strange Fruit,” which balances, with brilliance and edge, the joy of getting married with the tragedy of prejudice – demand more get-down-there-in-the-muck human complexity than they receive.

Standing On Ceremony has style, but there are times when style just isn’t enough. An evening like this should shake us up and make us think and feel and give us arguments to chew upon in the midnight of our souls.

—————-

Friday nights at 11:00 p.m. at Sacred Fools:

Four Clowns at Sacred Fools and Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre)  The four clowns who give Four Clowns its title are, separately and together, the most hilariously funny quartet you are likely to spend time with in one theater. And, boy, are they eager to share their sense of fun with you, the audience. This kind of joyous give-and-take spreads pandemonium and pleasure and it’s so contagious you might not  even notice that, behind the beautifully painted masks which hide (but not completely) their handsome faces, they have a deeply serious agenda. They want to give us, from a clown’s point of view, bristling commentary on the four ages of man (and four stages of death contained therein).

Which leads to an equally serious question: Why isn’t laughter enough?

Four Clowns at Sacred Fools and Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the L.A. Gay and Lebian Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (The Renberg Theatre)  Jeremy Aluma, the budding genius who conceived the piece in collaboration with his four wonderfully nutty cohorts – Kevin Klein (Mischievous Clown), Amir Levi (Nervous Clown), Raymond Lee (Angry Clown), and Alexis Jones (Sad Clown) – and his extraordinarily talented pianist/musical director Mario Granville (whose biography could use a show of its own), has driven up the stakes by creating not a Hellzapoppin or a Laugh-In, but a sour study of what’s wrong with the world and how comedy just possibly might help us survive its worst transgressions. Admittedly, I am quite a bit older than their targeted demographic, but the serious stuff, partly written, largely improvised, seemed to this reviewer to get labored and repetitive and to run out of steam before its two hours came to an end, and yet I couldn’t stop laughing for a single minute. In the end, it was the clowning that got to me, and just thinking about some of their shenanigans puts a smile on my face.

Laughter is enough.

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

Four Clowns
scheduled to close June 10 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.sacredfools.org/onlineboxoffice/

Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays
photos by Chuck Green
scheduled to close June 27 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.standingonceremony.net/

Comments on this entry are closed.