On stage in Toronto, the absurdist tragicomedy A Clown’s Life cracks many a joke but not all hit home
A Clown’s Life in 2 acts, playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, sets a hard goal for itself. A tragicomedy following the lives of a clown (Christian Glas), an agent (Rocky Keller), and a starlet (Lauren Goodman) in the world of show business where a small mix up changes the course of their lives. The production is inspired by the absurdist plays of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and the comedy troupe Stella—tough acts to follow.
Praise should be given where it’s due: the actors were committed to their roles. The energy was high and all the actors weathered some minor technical difficulties calmly, never missing a beat. When A Clown’s Life lets the absurdity reign, the show is at its strongest. Shak Haq’s sporadically appearing clown, Bozo, demonstrates this best through the stand-out monologue that climaxes in a hilarious and bizarre declaration that had the audience—myself included–laughing.
Unfortunately, while I always applaud ambition, A Clown’s Life is less connected to the insightful absurd tragicomedies of Beckett and Ionesco and I felt like it fell incredibly flat in its comedy.
Playwrights (and directors) Alex Lloyd, Roger Galvez, and Joey Condello have the potential to do interesting work. The premise of the play suggests personal appearance has more to do with success than talent, is timely. Also, the multimedia comedy skewering celebrity culture through several well-timed and hilariously accurate key sections, were fun and very well done.
Overall, though, many of the jokes felt strained. I wonder if someone felt that in order to qualify as a comedy (never mind that there is very little tragedy) they had to check off various boxes: Pop culture? Check. Sex jokes? Check. Slapstick? Check. My sister, who joined me for the evening, and I agreed that less is really more when it comes to any joke. Plus, not every comedy needs to have every joke.
I found the repetitive jokes were made worse by structural problems that highlighted weaknesses in the script and made them hard to ignore. We both agreed the play wanted to be three acts. I felt like it suffered from too many ideas crammed into the final scenes as the writers tried to keep to their tragicomedy checklist. There was also an awkward intermission after a twenty-five minute first act that felt unnecessary. It not only killed the momentum the show had just built, but also destroyed the narrative of the last part of the play — ideas were rushed and came out of left field, as well several endings were reached and promptly discarded.
All of which leaves me unsure as to how I felt about the play.
I can say that the audience enjoyed it, participating gamely as the actor broke the fourth wall. For myself I grew tired of listening to jokes that rarely, if ever, offered anything new. At the same time I understand A Clown’s Life is still somewhat in progress and I am unwilling to ignore that there is always the ability and opportunity to improve. It might just take a few more acts to make that happen.
- A Clown’s Life in 2 acts is playing until June 14 at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George)
- Show runs Thursday to Sunday at 8pm
- Ticket prices are $10 for students, $15 regular admission
- Tickets can be purchased at the door. For reservations e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Christian Glas and Rocky Keller courtesy Alex Lloyd, Roger Galvez, and Joey Condello