“This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper.” – T.S. Elliot, “The Hollow Men”
Or, if you are Happenstance Theater, the DC area’s premier clown troupe, it ends with displaced persons, misplaced hats, violent illness, heads that screw open and a butterfly named Grace, which Pandora (Sarah Olmsted Thomas) finds in a box and which she, along with the rest of us, urges to life. “Any questions?” asks Rose (Sabrina Mandell). There are none, but that’s OK, as there are no answers, either.
Make no mistake: when the end comes, we are all clowns, mystified and full of bad assumptions, bumping into objects and each other in a hopeless attempt at comprehension.
Sitting in the Apocalypse Cafe, Pandora (appearing with “Dora and the Pandemics”), Rose, Big Wanda (the decidedly un-big Karen Hansen), Ralph (Mark Jaster), Rowland (Alex Vernon) and Edith (Gwen Grastorf) wait for the end to come with the intensity of astrophysicists waiting for photos of Pluto.
Happenstance cites Beckett’s work in Waiting for Godot and Act Without Words I & II as inspiration, but you may find Endgame’s atmospherics overhanging the production. A terrible thing is about to happen, but no one knows what it is, or why it is, or when it will come. Hamm reacted with rage and bluster, but in BrouHaHa we see only childlike acceptance and mischievous joy.
by the ensemble of Happenstance Theater
Directed by Sabrina Mandell and Mark Jaster
Music: Karen Hansen
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This is clearly ensemble work, with parts interconnected gracefully. Nonetheless, there are decided personalities: Rose is simple, Ralph is long-suffering, Edith a little imposing, Pandora soft-hearted, Rowland a little manipulative. These are more than archetypes; they are tendencies in characters as well-rounded as you could expect in a one-hour production.
A special note about Hansen: she has created most of the music in this production (with the exception of Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament”, which the troupe plays beautifully) and it is a fun time whenever we hear it. Big Wanda is a Puck-like sprite, whose unpredictability adds impact and delight to the show.
There is a great deal of slapstick. The slapstick masters throughout history — Buster Keaton, say, or Jerome Howard or Stan Laurel — were extraordinarily graceful, and the artists in this show are too. When Thomas and Jaster dance across the stage near the middle of the production, the productions is briefly transformed into a ballet.
So it you like your apocalypse infused with moments of joy — and I realize it’s a matter of personal taste — this show is for you.
Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I have seen of desire
I could hold with those who favor fire
But from what I saw last night uptown
I say the world will end in clowns.