Something about diligently recording your thoughts in a notepad seems profoundly absurd when there’s a grossly overweight man-demon wandering around nearby, provoking people at random with his bulges and pointy parts. The odd man out in this scenario, as you may well guess, is the note-taker. I mean, what is this, a philosophy lecture? There’s a misshapen, wicked-minded wacko in the audience, crammed into a bright red jumpsuit and goading you into touching his butt. Tonight, theatre isn’t dead – it’s just been sucker-punched.
That man underneath the balloons and stretchy fabric is Eric Davis, who has been writing, acting, directing, and clowning in New York for some time now – he’s a founder and co-director of the NY Clown Theatre Festival – and who has recently been packing his big fat trunk around the world in search of audiences in far-off lands who, like many of us, crave some aggressive absurdity to break up the doldrums of everyday life. Coming up next, Davis will be moving to Los Angeles to perform in Cirque du Soleil’s new Hollywood show, Iris, but it’s not too late to catch him before he’s playing for the big stars. His eponymous show – worth far more than the cost of these tickets – plays through this weekend.
A minute into Red Bastard’s show I tucked my notepad away, barely making it out from under his roving gaze. “Bonjooour!” he calls at the start, and waits for a response. When half the audience murmurs “bonjour” back, he nods hungrily. “Oh, yeeees, this is that kind of show,” he says with a wolfish grin, and gives us a big stare with goofy, Jim Carrey-ish bug-eyes.
Two minutes in, I was glad I’d hidden the notepad. If Red Bastard had seen it, I half-feared he would plunge into the second row, swipe it away from me, and swallow it whole. Full-on digestion seems to be just about the only form of audience interaction in which Davis and his corpulent alter ego don’t indulge. Other than that, everything – and everyone, if the fun with Thursday night’s full house was any evidence – is up for grabs.
“It’s hard to categorize Red Bastard,” Tim Treanor wrote on this site a few days ago (his entertaining interview with Davis can be found here) “…he seems like a modern incarnation of the ancient Court Jester, who wise Kings engaged to deflate their egos, which would otherwise swell to room size under the force of relentless flattery.” True to his legacy, Davis brings high energy, sharp wit, and loads of gusto to his work in bouffon, a style of French physical comedy popularized by Jacques Lecoq in 1960s Paris.
Whereas a clown exists to be made fun of, a bouffon shows up to make fun of you. And though Red Bastard may resemble an obese flamingo, strutting heavily around, he is, as we come to suspect, the most agile one in the room – more disciplined, dexterous, and physically refined than his outer self lets on. He seems utterly convinced, too, that he is smarter and more entertaining than you are. How big of him, then, to prod us repeatedly to participate, throwing in our own thoughts, impulses, desires, and big reactions.
It wouldn’t be fair to report too thoroughly on what happened during the first show. But, as guided by Davis and his remarkably controlled touch, it was a performance that celebrated self-deprecation, spontaneity, and personal courage. I doubt anything Red Bastard concocts is ever totally repeatable, but on Thursday night we had a good talk, believe it or not, about buried fantasies, lost plans, abandoned goals, and the tyranny of self-censorship. It was a chat spurred by participatory panic, flecked with madness, totally over the top, and impossible to resist.
And by the end, Davis had reminded us of the ways in which it is mostly ourselves who invent and determine the kind of night we’re going to have when we wander out in search of live entertainment. Really, who needs to put a tragi-comic bouffon onstage at all when our own lives are already so ludicrously presumed and bizarrely conducted?
On second thought, maybe the bastard was hosting a philosophy lecture after all. Hmmm… should have taken notes.
Performed by Eric Davis
Reviewed by Hunter Styles
DCTS feature: Red Bastard is coming to town