Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The Blacks: A Clown Show
Also see Sharon's review of Imelda
I love incendiary theatre. In-your-face theatre. Theatre that grabs you by the shoulders and tries to shake you out of your complacency, challenging you to question your accepted beliefs about how the world works. Theatre that smashes through established boundaries and demands that you follow. Theatre that tries to change the way you think.
Evidence Room's production of The Blacks: A Clown Show looks to be all of this. From its opening moments, in which a black man appears in blackface, Evidence Room's production is all about creating incendiary imagery. Whether it is black- or white-face, using the "n-word," or a heartless discussion of a brutal murder, this production is all about provoking a reaction.
The problem with the production is this is all that it does. Between the costumes (Ann Closs-Farley, using her composite 99-Cent Store style in a much more sexually aggressive manner), the dark and threatening lighting (Anne Militello), and the almost surrealistically out of place brightly-colored set (Snezana Petrovic), Jean Genet's story gets lost. Individual lines may shock, individual monologues may induce shivers, but the overall plot is simply not conveyed.
It's difficult to identify exactly where it goes wrong. The show has a play-within-a-play structure, in which a group of black actors are putting on a show for a privileged white audience. The show they perform involves the murder of a white woman, and as the black actors prepare to perform their play, they talk about how they obtained the centerpiece corpse for their show - by actually murdering a white woman. With the lines between reality and fiction suitably blurred, the entire first act of The Blacks leaves the audience questioning whether or not a murder has really taken place. The second act adds further layers of confusion, and, although the audience leaves with a general inkling of what has actually been going on, there's an abiding feeling that the full scope of the play wasn't really put across.
It's a shame, because, in this day and age, shows that "weird you out" are few and far between. And though Evidence Room's production accomplishes this, it fails in the somewhat more basic task of actually conveying the play's text.
The Blacks: A Clown Show runs at the Evidence Room through June 26, 2005. www.evidenceroom.com.
Evidence Room presents The Blacks: A Clown Show by Jean Genet. Adapted by Bernard Frechtman. Director L. Kenneth Richardson; Scenic Design Snezana Petrovic; Costume Design Ann Closs-Farley; Lighting Design Anne Militello; Sound Design John Zalewski; Choreography Julie Arenal; Stage Manager Tracey McAvoy; Producers Lauren Campedelli, Bart DeLorenzo; Nataki Garrett.