Fort Worth — Though the extent of most Americans’ experience with clowns doesn’t go beyond the Ringling Brothers, the painted or masked comic performers go back hundreds of years and have an important place in our cultural history. In Hip Pocket Theatre’s Rose Nose Rhapsody, by Lake Simons and John Dyer, the clown’s famous red nose is used as a device through which to explore these characters.
Though it’s an overall delightful performance, essentially consisting of a series of clowning scenes featuring the ensemble, red nose-donning cast of Frieda Austin, Jozy Camp, Christina Cranshaw, Allen Dean, Jeff Stanfield, Kristi Ramos Toler and James Warila, there is an implied narrative structure which never quite coalesces. Dyer provides periodic radio announcements that both serve as a break between scenes but also portend some sort of ominous, apocalyptic type vibe or event. It’s never quite clear.
That said, the scenes, when taken at face value, are thoroughly entertaining. Whether it’ a picnic, a golf outing, hairdressing, a science experiment, or creating a poor symphonic rendition of Rhapsody in Blue, the performers, under Simon’s skilled direction, fully embrace the playfulness of their nez rouge.
There’s even a moment, in the mesmerizing yet slightly confusing climactic scene, which gives the audience a flash of the expert puppetry Simons is so well-known for.
The only quibble is that there is an implication of an overarching narrative and some statement or exploration on the red nose as a mask, as addressed in a statement and quote from famous French actor and mime Jaques Lecoq (with whom Lake Simons studied) in the program. Dyer’s intermittent interruptions to the scenes, which the performers often react to with fear, suggests something that is never quite clear. Otherwise, the show is just several mostly unrelated scenes of clowning.
Good clowning. That’s important to distinguish. The plot issues are relatively minor. The show as a whole is still a lot of fun. Simons, Dyer and the cast collaborated to create a fun evening of traditional clowning that plays with human folly, emotion, and everyday life with a healthy dose of slapstick and pratfalls. And wouldn’t life be a lot more fun that way?
» Here's video of the hairdresser scene in Rose Nose Rhapsody: