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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Under the makeup - Cruel Cruel Boys purports to examine a clown's inner turmoil
Arts & Entertainment
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Under the makeup - Cruel Cruel Boys purports to examine a clown's inner turmoil

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

TALL SKINNY CRUEL CRUEL BOYS
WASHINGTON ENSEMBLE THEATRE
Through June 24


Remember Smokey Robinson's song 'Tears of a Clown'? (When there's no one around, of course.) This could have been part of the soundscape for Washington Ensemble Theatre's newest production, Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys by Caroline V. McGraw. This is the world premiere production about a birthday-party clown whose personal life is so fucked up it's difficult to watch.

Hannah Victoria Franklin plays Brandy, a woman who knows how to endear herself to children as she screws up the rest of her life with booze, bad men, gambling, and an inner monster who has marked her chest with a growing, glowing sore. Franklin's ability to clown is a newly discovered skill for those who know her as a talented actor, and she really can turn on a dime to entrance and enchant in silliness for the little ones. But the part of her life that is supposed to be tortured doesn't quite reach the level of inner angst. It is played too much for show and does not reveal any real torment. In fact, she plays it with too much bravado and pugnacity.

Brandy hops from one bed partner to another, including one of the kids' dads and another's teenage brother (played by Jay Myers), even though she knows it's probably criminally dangerous. And the script hops around in time, since we meet the teenager first and then go back to where Brandy first meets him.

The audience can draw inferences to the monster under the bed (and the huge sore on her chest) as an inner beast that she grows herself, until late in the play, unaccountably, the aforementioned teenage boy's girlfriend (played by Samie Spring Detzer) enters Brandy's apartment alone, finds the monster, and vanquishes it herself. Huh? How does that empower Brandy's growth? How does Tash even see it?

SHIFTING MOODS
Some of the play is funny and endearing, while some of it is distasteful and dark. It includes puppetry - both the larger-than-life aspect (Billy Gleeson plays the human-sized monster under the bed) and the smaller variety (a doll plays one of the children who fall in love with Brandy's clowning). The other two actors in this sextet are Scott Ward Abernethy, who plays a 'normal' guy clown who's losing business to Brandy and wants to team up with her, and Kate Kraay as the mother of a little girl who has developmental issues and is unaccountably drawn to Brandy's clowning skills. Perhaps the girl is there to demonstrate that Brandy is lovable, a trait no one else can see.

In a 90-minute, no-intermission presentation directed by Jane Nichols (a top-notch clowning expert), Pete Rush's adorable set suggesting a circus tent and Andrew Samora's enchanting flute-infused sound design help create the appropriate atmosphere. The script is full of very, very short scenes, and it moves so swiftly that sometimes there isn't even time to determine what the scene might indicate to the larger purpose before it's gone again.

In that sense, Brandy's tortured soul is unrevealed except for the sore on her chest, and since someone else 'kills her monster,' the possibly happy ending is unearned. Positive aspects include the combination of clowning and script, and an inventive way to begin to explore women's self-hatred and the ways they express it, particularly through the men they choose to interact with. For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org or call (206) 325-5105.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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