George Heymont, Huffington Post – September 19, 2011 @ San Francisco Fringe
The Four Clowns troupe recently ended a summer tour to Phoenix, Chicago, St. Paul, and Indianapolis with appearances at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. While their style can best be described as aggressively athletic and hilariously inappropriate. the element of surprise kicked in way before the performance. As they audience entered the Exit Theatre, they encountered a handsome young black man seated in front of an electronic keyboard who proceeded to “have at” a piano reduction of George Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue.
What made Mario Granville’s performance so interesting was not just the fact that he is the group’s musical director. At the age of six, Granville became almost completely deaf. Following reconstructive surgery to fix his hearing, he began to teach himself to play the piano at the age of seven. By eight, he had developed a passion for Beethoven and begun to perform his music regularly.
By 10, Granville had composed his first classical song and, by 11, had begun to write longer pieces.Over the years (although he has never worked with a piano teacher), Granville has developed a style built on a combination of classical technique and what he describes as “inescapable present day modality shaped by a tumultuous emotionality.” No amount of missed notes can hide his virtuosity.
Conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma, the structure of Four Clowns is simple. Four clowns enter onto a stage singing the refrain to a theme song. They are: Angry Clown (Raymond Lee), dressed in bright red, Sad Clown (Alexis Jones), dressed in blue, Mischievous Clown (Kevin Klein), dressed in purple and Nervous Clown (Amir Levi), dressed in yellow.
This is not, however, your typical clown act. The group’s donor levels have been named in honor of Charlie Chaplin, Andy Kaufman, Yorick, Bill Irwin, David Shiner, and Slava.
The Four Clowns show is broken into three segments: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Each segment contains several quick skits in which roles (father, mother, big brother, coworker, boss, etc.,) may be prewritten or arbitrarily assigned to any performer. The humor is fast and furious, sometimes almost ferocious in its execution.
At the performance I attended, one woman (who, as the audience later learned, had made a $200 donation to the troupe) got a lap dance from Angry Clown that had the everyone convulsed in laughter.
From start to finish, Four Clowns uses high levels of energy, physical dexterity, and laser-like wit to entertain its audience. During certain parts of the performance I attended, Sad Clown chose to commiserate with a member of the audience in order to remind people that being a clown isn’t always as happy as one might imagine. (For a hilarious piece of writing, check out Alexis Jones’s post entitled Clown Car Chronicles: I Hate Jeremy Aluma.)
If I was more impressed by the work of Raymond Lee (Angry Clown) and Kevin Klein (Mischievous Clown), that’s only because at such a high level of craft and aggressive energy, they stood a hair’s breadth above Alexis Jones (Sad Clown) and Amir Levi (Nervous Clown). The bottom line? There is no holding back with these four performers. I eagerly await a chance to see their production of Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet.
- George Heymont