When the lights come up and the bodies start to crowd, do you come off as a scowler or a smiler? The rush hour platform’s peppered with both populations. On the one hand: Metro commuters who want nothing more than uninterrupted solitude on their ride from point A to point B. On the other hand: the friendly and free-spirited travelers who opt for point C: connection. Separated at Birth has plenty of both types wandering the tracks, with a cast that revels in the interplay between those who avoid connection and those who pounce on it.
A sad little tale of despair and isolation? Hardly. This urban playground gets a gleeful jolt from one of our most trusted and colorful forms of theatrical fun: clowning. The cityscape imagined by dog & pony may be tacked down by stops on the green and yellow lines, but it’s those red dotted noses that really locate us on the comedy map. And if you’re willing to smile, not frown, at the cast of sillies all around you, you’ll have a whole lotta fun underground.
And they will be all around you, so consider yourself warned. HannaH J. Crowell and Andrew Cissna’s traverse stage provides the clowns with one dingy, double-sided stone bench (familiar to any Metro rider) with two sides of paired-off audience seating, in a style rather more New York, facing each other across the alley — a sort of Noah’s Ark travel mentality. The space in-between pairs provides plenty of room for the larger-than-life characters to elbow, wiggle and slide from corner to corner of the room, throwing each other gasps, double-takes, little flirts, bug-eyes, flailing arms, spastic hurtles, and shivers of joyous camaraderie.
But a bunch of Binky’s this ain’t. Although they all wear the big red nose, each performer has developed their own cache of wonderfully goofy behaviors and gestures. There’s Micael Bogar as the snooty, tight-lipped Intern, Brenden McDougal as the shambling, awkward Nerd, and Lenore Sack as the flustered, stumbling Tourist. Wendy Nogales, as Princess, smacks her lips and swings designer shopping bags with frightening inertia. Monique Holt, as OCD, is a skittering blast of performance art unto herself, decked out as she is in a raincoat and a whole lotta lint rollers (the better to rub up the grime and, finally, somewhere, take a seat). Jon Reynolds, as Romeo, wears a streetwise smirk and an XL jersey, and pulls calling cards out of his elastic pants when he eyeballs the perfect lady. You know, just another day on mass transit.
Not to be outshone, at the center of the circus is Rachel Grossman as Sunshine, a mischievous innocent with pink stockings, a ruffly skirt, and a contraband cupcake in an unmarked box (No Eating, as we all know). As our impish host she’s both facilitator and bystander, ready to prod, tweak, and hassle fellow riders but always, a moment later, surprised by the chaos she’s wrought. Fortunately, that cupcake of hers resolves all crises. One whiff of that sugary pastry it seems, and clowns relax, revive, and realign. Call it deus ex crusta; this story’s saved by the cake.
The only way of learning characters’ names is from the program; the show itself features practically no words. But boy, do they cause a ruckus. The best bits are those in which Sunshine and her mates struggle to define and correct the line between personal space and shared space, whether it’s started by a dropped phone call, a curious eye on the pages of someone else’s novel, or a concentrated splaying out of city maps across precious sitting space. In one of the best moments of synthesis, a sleeping, snoring man totters and lolls from one horrified lap to another, as the riders around him alternately wake him up and hypnotize him back to sleep.
Not every scene captures this devilish sense of fun, and a few minutes pass from time to time where the improv never fully gels. Still, if we didn’t have to pass a stiff, quiet minute or two in close proximity to others from time to time, we wouldn’t be true city folk. Just keep the smile alive on the platform, and it won’t be long before another collective laugh comes roaring up behind you.
Separated at Birth
Directed by Wyckham Avery and Lorraine Ressegger
With Clown Direction from Colin Hovde, Nicole Jost and Jessica Lefkow
Produced by dog & pony dc
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
Separated at Birth runs thru August 29, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH
Fiona Zublin . Washington Post