Monday, May 23, 2016

Clown Bar

Playwright:  Adam Szymkowicz

Venue:  Zodiac Venue, 230 Pueblo Street, Colorado Springs, CO.

Running Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, May 21, 2016. 

Clown Bar is an unusual theater experience.  From the Springs Ensemble Theatre (SET) program for the show:

“Hi!  Welcome to the Clown Bar.  Prepare yourself to be immersed into the seedy underbelly of the underground clown crime world.  Your evening tonight will consist of an immersive experience that draws you into the mix.  There will be burlesque, a show, and live music.  What a deal!

Still, given that description, I was hardly prepared for what followed.  It’s a marketing executive’s dream show:  sex, booze, & rock and roll, all live and in person on the same stage.  It’s one stop shopping for your entertainment pleasure.

The venue, Zodiac Venue, is a bar, club, music venue, and now a stage for all manner of clown mischief.  Peaks and Pasties (hereafter P & P) provides the sexy gals to keep the mood focused on fun.  The cast performs, not on the Zodiac stage (that’s reserved for the Band Idiot, P & P, and the emcee), but in the midst of the crowd.  The effect is not exactly like breaking the fourth wall…it’s more like having no walls at all.  

Zodiac Venue.  You are looking at the performance stage.  Photo credit:
Bill Wheeler.
This is a “breakout” performance for SET for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it “breaks out” of their performance space on East Cache La Poudre.  It’s not just that they took this show on the road.  It’s that they have somehow managed to find a perfect fit for Clown Bar.  It’s in a bar.  There’s alcohol.  It’s adults only.  It’s a club that (I’m speculating here) few of SET’s subscribers ever heard about. 

This is also a breakout for SET (at least in my experience) because Clown Bar is a campy, melodramatic script with a single focus:  fun.  This is not Shakespeare.  It’s a silly story about a drug addicted clown whose demise is a mystery.  The Clown Bar script calls for over acting, and the cast never misses a chance to ham up their lines.  SET has done a lot of serious theater (see here and here); Clown Bar is a brilliant and unexpected deviation.

I found that it helps if I think of Clown Bar as a 3 ring circus.  Ring 1 is the Band Idiot.  Ring 2 is the Burlesque Show.  Ring 3 is the play itself.

Clown Bar is a highly creative production, from the immersive staging to the clown costumes and makeup, and to the freedom given to the musicians.  For Ring 1, SET employs three different bands, one for each weekend of the production.  The bands were given lyrics from the script and asked to come up with their own music.  Band Idiot played the performance I saw, and the indie punk group tore it up with their Clown Bar compositions.

SET’s loyal patrons are quickly plunged into this three ring circus, complete with clowns, and fueled by a cash bar (try the Irish Whiskey Mule, $7.00 with Jameson Irish Whiskey).  Ring 2 brings us the lovely ladies of P & P vamping through their sexy, naughty burlesque act for the crowd.  Their job is to warm up the crowd.  I’m here to say “mission accomplished.”

Ring 3, Adam Szymkowicz’s Clown Bar, is the main event.  Szymkowicz is not worried about writing the next Les Miserables.  Rather, he’d be happy if Clown Bar becomes the next Rocky Horror Show.  He goes for campy fun and knocks it out of the park.  There’s clown hookers, clown murderers, a clown drug addict, a clown tough guy, a clown emcee, and of course, some clowns who are even funny.  

L-R  Angela Kinnett (Petunia), Bob Morsch (Giggles),
Jill Marie Peterson.  Photo credit:  Bill Wheeler.
Angela Kinnett is unrecognizable in her clown make up and wig.  Seriously.  I’ve seen Angela before at Dragon Theatre Productions, and I did NOT know she was Petunia until I read the program.  My passing acquaintance with her did not prepare me for her character:  she’s a hooker clown. Knock me over with a feather…not a role I would have imagined for her.  Let me just say that she’s a very convincing clown with a part time job.

Micah Speirs is the male lead, playing Happy Mahoney, a clown who left the circus to become a detective.  Speirs winks and nods his way through the story, mostly pursuing justice but really looking for revenge.  He plays it straight (overacting is for clowns), and doggedly pursues the clown who murdered his brother Timmy (David Atkinson).  

Micah Speirs (Happy Mahoney).  Photo credit:  Springs
Ensemble Theatre.
I’m pretty sure Speirs didn’t object to what seemed like five minutes of passionate making out with his love interest, Blinky Fatale (Nikita Bonita).  Bonita was the headline dancer for P & P, which is to say she can shake some serious booty.  Speirs might want to mention this “get a room” test of endurance on his acting resume.  

After Bonita finished her burlesque bit, she slipped into a full length see through black gauzy coverup adorned with vertical multicolored LED lights.  Let that image sink in for a minute.  Stripper. Gauzy.  Black.  See through.  Tiny lights.  Got it?  You don’t see that combination often. 

David Atkinson (Timmy).  Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble
David Atkinson (Timmy) has an unusual role; he has to be killed multiple times in Clown Bar.  He recreates every nuance of the scene perfectly each time.  He is the ultimate clown gone bad, from funny guy to drug addict to hit man.  Atkinson cleverly displays both his bad boy side and his human side.

Dusty the Clown (Kala Roquemore) hammed it up as the emcee for the festivities and kept the audience engaged as the show bounced around the three rings of the circus.  

One of the Rules of Clown Bar is “don’t say I didn’t warn you.”   If you suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns), you do not want to meet Popo (Erica Erickson) in a dark alley.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Band Idiot stayed after the show to do a one hour set for those whose bedtimes were substantially later than mine (the performance doesn't begin until 9:00 PM).  Again.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Director Crystal Carter pulled off some minor miracles at the Zodiac.  With very little rehearsal time in the actual venue, she has packed the evening with a mystery, multiple gun fights, a love story, and a whole lot of laughs from a cast that has given her everything she asked for.  

I was a little apprehensive and somewhat skeptical when we pulled up to the Zodiac before the show.  I was wrong.  If more shows focused on sex, booze, and rock & roll, the world might be a better place.  Clown Bar was a blast.   It’s extremely rare to have this much fun packed into 90 minutes.  SET went out of the box and blew the roof off the place. 
Clown Bar Cast.  Photo credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre.

This show is for adults only.  Since the Zodiac Venue is also a bar, minors are not admitted.  Due to the immersive presentation of the play, every seat in the house is great for most scenes, but every seat in the house will also have a somewhat obstructed view of some scenes.  Don’t worry about your seat.  They’re all great, except when they’re not.  If you have the choice, the best seats for the band and the burlesque are near the stage.

For those who adhere to the maxim that “the more you drink, the better the Band/Girls/Guys look,” I only had one beer.  I take my work seriously.  But they all looked pretty hot to me.

One of the unexpected benefits of burlesque as done by Peaks and Pasties (this page may be NSFW*) is that you might get some ideas for tattoos.  There was a substantial display of body art on display.  Yes.  I was looking.  No.  I’m not going to get a tattoo.  Especially not THAT tattoo.  Not now.  I guess.  Well, maybe.  I need another beer first.  We’ll discuss it later.

*NSFW is short for “Not Suitable For Work.”  In other words, don’t click on this link if your boss is looking over your shoulder.  If you already clicked on it, work on your résumé next.

There is ample free street parking in the area.

This show closes on May 28, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre and Bill Wheeler



Producers: Crystal Carter and Matt Radcliffe

Director:  Crystal Carter

Sound Design:  Pat Collins

Clown Arms Wrangler: Cyndi Parr

Costume Designers:  Tammy Smith, David Atkinson, Crystal Carter

Costume Construction:  Sarah S. Shaver

Makeup:  Special assistance from Mark Modeer

Board Operator:  Andrea Stone

Stage Manager:  Gabriel Espinoza-Lira

Stage Hand:  Cheyenne York


Giggles:  Bob Morsch

Shotgun McGhee:  Tammy Smith

Dusty: Kala Roquemore

Popo:  Erica Erickson

Blinky Fatale:  Nikita Bonita

Timmy:  David Atkinson

Twinkles:  Erick Groskopf

Happy Maloney:  Micah Speirs

Bobo:  Max Ferguson

The Band Idiot

Marni Green, Jeremy Monteleone, Cassie Eacker

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