LUCE: There's an elephant in the room
- Written by Donald D'Haene and Trish West
A Theatre Nemesis Production
A Play by Jason Rip
Directed by Aimee Adler
Produced by Matt Loop
Starring Dave Adler, Andrea Hutchison, Jason Rip, & John Turner
Set Design by Sue Parke
Lighting Design by Stephen Mitchell
Sound Design by Dave Adler
The ARTS Project Theatre
Material for the production LUCE states: “Every child wants to run away and join the circus, but how do you run away when you're already at the circus? LUCE is the story of a clown, Cheeks Chuckleton, his love for a ragged, maltreated giraffe and his desire to help it escape. This Big Top is full of broken dreams as we meet an aging trapeze artist and a ringmaster who could have been working for NASA.”
So far technically correct.
It continues, “A bittersweet tale about dreams deferred, LUCE will inspire both laughter and tears.”
Well, I’ll come back to that in a moment...Meanwhile, Trish West joined me on a trip to this circus opening night.
Donald: Trish, there was a disgruntled ringmaster, an unhappy trapeze artist, a sad clown and a giraffe! And John Turner also stars in a role like we’ve never seen him before!
Trish: I am always impressed by an actor who has a strong presence on stage without having to say a single word. John Turner impressed me without having to say a thing.
Donald: After Jason Rip’s terrific turn in one of my favourite productions of 2012, Endgame, his low key delivery here just did not suit the ringmaster. There needed to be at least one moment, the opener would be a good example – that we believed Rip as a man who actually ran a circus.
Trish: I wish we were given more energy to start – to feel like we were in for a real treat. Many of us have memories of our own childhood visits to the circus…cotton candy, fun and laughter under the big tent. How interesting it might have been to be reminded of all this before we see that, behind the curtain, things are not as we fondly remember. To hear the booming introduction of the Ringmaster before we see the depressed man behind the voice, or have the clown get the audience laughing so we don’t realize until later he is really crying inside… I would have loved to hear the high pitch voice of the cute trapeze artist turn out to be a gritty and gruff once she hops off that tightrope. To start off on a high note before we fall… finding out how depressed each character really is behind their ‘game face’ or as someone mentioned ‘public face’. You know the one – the face we all have when we don’t want people to see how depressed, disappointed or angry we may really feel. I laughed once after being told ‘how patient I always seem with my kids’…they haven’t been to my house in the morning with only five minutes left to get four kids out the door for school.
Donald: I hear you! I had asked Jason, what genre is your play? He said, “tragicomedy...It could be either drama or comedy, but, if I had to pick one, it's a comedy.” Well, he must have been very disappointed with the reaction of his opening night audience. I kept track: there was one collective laugh by the 20 minute mark and one individual chuckled ten minutes after that.
Trish: I did not get the feeling that this was a comedy…maybe intended as more of a dark comedy? The audience was very quiet – any jokes thrown out for the audience to catch... fell flat.
Donald: At first glance, I thought how wonderful that curtains were used to make the space smaller – moving the one large set piece closer to the audience. Yet even this was a misfire as the performers did everything but play in our face. Even though physically closer they seemed so far away for the entire show. And there were other certain elements that had potential here. Colourful costumes and set. Appropriate lighting. Actors who I’ve certainly enjoyed in various previous productions. But the script, direction and lack of audience response stifled the performers to the point of lethargy. It was as if the actors were reviewing us as we were reviewing them. The more we didn’t laugh, the more ‘it’ became the elephant in the room. The actors kept telling us, ‘hey, it’s Luce, the giraffe who’s the star of the production.’ Elephant in room vs. giraffe on stage. I’m afraid opening night, the ‘elephant’ won.
Trish: I enjoyed the set and costumes – but was disappointed that the entire play was played within a very small boxcar…it felt like they were confined in that box and felt distanced from the characters in the play. The script was not my favorite – which is disappointing after seeing some of Jason’s other shows. It was flat without an arc – everyone depressed from beginning to end. Same goes for the performances seen opening night…everyone had low energy and the acting was not as strong as I have seen from them in some of their prior roles.
Donald: Dave Adler’s strengths as an actor are his voice, energy, masculinity – well, here he performs as if his balls had been cut off. That might fit an unhappy clown, but again, I didn’t believe he was a clown.
Trish: He reminded me of the sad clown face painted on black velvet. I liked the energy behind his actions when washing off his clown face as well as the revelation that he carried with him a photo of himself…to remember what he looked like underneath the clown face. Unfortunately it was only a short moment that showed some depth beneath that clown’s frown.
Donald: Andrea Hutchison’s first appearance was theatrical and the voice she used worked for her entrance but that voice came and went several times and too noticeably.
Trish: I had wondered if that was part of her ‘act’…not part of her acting.
Donald: Only John Turner performed with confidence – his silence was more believable than the dialogue.
Trish: He also can peel an apple leaving the skin almost in one piece!
Donald: Coincidentally, before I left for the theatre, I was flipping channels on the television and stopped at a ’67 Joan Crawford movie, Bezerk, a macabre mother and daughter slasher tale about a circus. I didn’t think of it until 40 minutes into LUCE when I was going bezerk with dialogue so absurd I had a giggle fit (my first since Dark of The Moon). That is one way you could enjoy this train/circus wreck. Just go with the flow. (Although LUCE made Bezerk look like Masterpiece Theatre in comparison.) At one point I just counted dots on the clown’s costume! And I almost fell on the floor in tears when Rip squeezed the giraffe aka Mr. Whipple squeezing his Charmin toilet paper.
Trish: Oh don’t get me started again with your giggle fit… you had me going – especially during the ‘strangle the giraffe’ bit….poor Luce!
Donald: LUCE is not the worst show I saw this year. (Luckily I didn’t have to review THEM!) LUCE is just one hour without an intermission. And at least the giraffe kept his head above it all.
Trish: One question before we close…do giraffe’s really like onions?
Donald D’Haene is Online Theatre Editor of The Beat Magazine. You may also read Donald’s Huffington Post Blogs here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/donald-dhaene/ Check for updates on The 4th Annual Beat DISH Awards here: https://thebeatmagazine.ca/index.php/the-dish-awards-updates/32-the-beat-dish-awards/1298-the-beat-dish-awards-2013
Trish West is looking forward to sharing the stage with her son in LCP's To Kill a Mockingbird come Feb 2013. She has 3 days left of her 366 day photo challenge (leap year) and proudly has some of those pictures on display at the Central library downtown London during the month of December.
Photos by Richard Gilmore