REVIEWS: Romeo & Juliet
This show is a pure delight! It’s no wonder this quartet lead by Director Jeremy Aluma swept the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Awards. The group’s take on the classic tragedy makes for a non-stop night of laughter. Ridiculous, raunchy, and not skimping on the pathos, 4 Clowns brings to light the Bard’s sense of humor that is so often overlooked. The audience is their 5th clown, each latecomer made an example of, every laugh exponentially increasing their energy and desire to engage.
Alexis, Raymond, Kevin and Zach are truly gifted movers, light on their feet and transforming effortlessly from scene to scene. They make pure caricatures of the Montagues and Capulets, imbuing them with not only the tragic truths but the bawdy and immature impulses we feel as adults but do not show. Short bursts of gags and movement pieces interspersed between the serious scenes remind us we are only in a theatre, and the Old Apothecary crosses off his plot checklist as the night progresses.
The production is bare bones: a red curtain, trunk, two ladders and a pianist. This raw retelling evokes an old spirit of street theatre, with all its boldness and charm.
- Felicity Doyle
Slap happy- melodramatic- kicking and scratching- role swapping-auto erotically asphyxiating and Shakespearing until the last laughing breath – you will not be disappointed. You will hoot, snort, be insulted and probably embarrassed – they’re not going to do that are they? Well, yes they are. Pissing, fucking, fisting, fighting – there’s so much newly revealed in the well-noted story but I don’t want to ruin it for you. No doubt you’ve heard about the Four Clowns. This year at the Hollywood Fringe they are serving up what is arguably the best play ever written: Romeo and Juliet.
The narrative thread often held together by technical skill alone–certainly not the iambic pentameter – the clowns unravel a profuse and rampant kind of love story, redrawing the archetypal characters with so many off beat and oddly tangential moments it’s easy to forget there are only four actors up there. Four clowns: Jones, Klein, Lee and Steel. And while I’m sure there is a dramaturge rushing to the Taper for cleansing matinee of Les Mis, I somehow think this is more likely how Shakespeare would have preferred R & J – stage play in general: current, biting and uncomfortably accessible to even us groundlings.
- Vince Duvall
One of the best shows at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Fest is performed by a complete bunch of clowns. Four of them in fact. 4 Clowns brings their second production — a very loose, bawdy and uproariously funny adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet — to the Fringe central stage. This marks the second year at the Hollywood Fringe for the show-turned-troupe who earned a “Best in Physical Theater Award” at the 2010 festival.
I spoke recently with director Jeremy Aluma — who plans on taking the show on the road this summer with stops at the Minnesota and San Francisco Fringe Festivals — about the origins of the show, theatre’s place in our digitally connected culture and what’s so special about the L.A. theatre scene.
4 Clowns emerged out of Aluma’s desire to produce something for the inaugral Hollwywood Fringe. At the time he was looking at three different projects- a play he couldn’t get the rights for, a friend’s play that wouldn’t have been finished in time and the final option “the clown show”.
“[It] was my first show that wasn’t an adaptation,” says Aluma, “my first original show. so it was a big stepping stone for me to step out on the edge of the cliff there and try to create something from scratch. I’ve directed probably about 20 shows, like dramas… I actually usually like dramas more than anything. Which sort of suggests the bent on my style of humor in comedies because of how much I like dramas.”
The current incarnaton of 4 Clowns is driven by the team of sharp physical comedians who are no slouches in the acting department. The clown personas form a base upon which the actors layer on the Shakespearean cast of characters taken to comedically vulgar extremes. 4 Clowns: Romeo & Juliet isn’t a traditional clown show, and is definitely not for kids.
“I think for us the two most important characteristics of our troupe as clowns is to make the audience laugh first and foremost and to be interactive with the audience,” says Aluma. “The point is to involve them in the show. The reason why I think that is exciting right now is the way that the world is moving in technology. People felt like TV and the movies were the death of theatre and, in that way, the pendulum for me is sort of swinging back.”
“No one wants to only get their entertainment solely by themselves. Because you enjoy things more when you’re with a group, and it’s always been a communal activity. And I think as we continue to go in one direction the opposite direction becomes even more valid.”
Which isn’t to say that Aluma despises the entertainment industry that dominates Los Angeles.
“I don’t want to say I’m not interested (in film & television) because I definitely think that there’s room to cross over back and forth between the mediums,” says Aluma. “We’re gonna film the tour documentary style so we might have a movie at the end of it.” His goal is to take the finished product and send it to film festivals.
The fortune and glory of Hollywood wasn’t what lured Aluma here.
“I don’t actually know what drew me down here, but I know why I’m staying. The talent pool here is fucking amazing. I’ve worked with actors at a level of which I don’t think I would get to work with if I was directing in any other city in the country. If I was in New York, those actors would be around, but I wouldn’t get the gigs. If I was in San Francsico, it’s a smaller, tighter pool and again harder to get the gigs.”
“It’s very easy to self produce out here, which is a double-edged sword of L.A. theatre. I feel like I’ve been able to take advantage of those advantages- which is cheap to produce and a large talent pool. And despite the criticisms of LA being mostly theatre actors wanting to just showcase themselves I’ve found about 100 actors that I’ve worked with over the last four years, five years that are not in it just for that. That are team players and really give it their all.”
What Aluma notes here is something I’ve discovered too in my first year of exploring Los Angeles. It seems obvious in hindsight, but from the outside looking in the perspective on L.A. is that everyone is so busy hustling, there’s no time for art. Just those showcase productions driven by ego. Those exist here too, and are every bit as painful as you might imagine, but if my experience of the Fringe and Aluma’s career is any indication there is far more going on in this city than anyone in “artistic” cities like SF and New York are willing to recognize.
“There are so many talented artists here in every medium,” says Aluma. “I live downtown so I live in the Art Walk, you know? Its below my window. I just saw Far East Movement, They’re an LA band that’s getting some momentum. They were playing on the sidewalk outside of my window last month. They woke me up from a nap. Where else is that going to happen on the west coast?”
- Noah Nelson
Four Clowns, Alive Theatre Founding Artistic Director Jeremy Aluma’s brilliant, fierce and visceral comedy, was a hit last year at the Alive Theatre and a hit this year when the company was asked to present the show at the Long Beach Playhouse.
The four clowns live on. Aluma is taking “Four Clowns” the Minnesota and San Francisco Fringe Festivals this summer, and he has them taking on a new challenge en route: Shakespeare. “Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet” made its debut last week at the Hollywood Fringe. Two performances are left this weekend June 24 and 25) and if you can go, go. The clowns are just as madcap as ever, though when dealing with Shakespeare they are, for those who have seen them several times, a little friendlier than before, a little more like acquaintances who you know and love. They have lost a little of their edge of angst in the conversion to the Bard, but are even funnier, playing many roles in front of a red curtain suspended from two ladders, giving everyone from Juliet’s nurse to Mercutio a look in a fast-paced hour-long show that will leave you hoarse with laughter.
Alexis Jones, the only female in the cast, plays Juliet, Kevin Klein is Romeo, Raymond Lee is Mercutio, and Zach Steel is Tybalt. They all play multiple others, and some of the fun is seeing how fast they can change from one to another. Mario Granville continues to provide piano accompaniment, with Beethoven and Chopin before and after the performance and plenty of musical comments during the action.
- John Farrell
In a previous review I said just how much I loved the work of the Four Clowns who, if they can raise some cash through Kickstarter, will tour this summer to the San Francisco and Minnesota Fringe Festivals. In 2010 they received several awards and nominations for their work—the Hollywood Fringe Award for Best Physical Theatre, Hollywood Fringe Award nomination for Best World Premiere, and Bitter Lemons Award nomination for Most Outrageous Theatre.
The company consists of four archetypal clowns (Nervous, Mischievous, Angry, and Sad) going through stages of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death. Their message is that no matter how f—king horrible life can be, at least we can laugh our way through it. Director Jeremy Aluma and his quartet of clowns devised a universal show using classic clowning, dance singing, and improvisation, to create a marvelous evening, or matinee, of theatre.
Well, they are back with a vengeance for this year’s Fringe, doing four performances only of the Four Clowns version of Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps taking their lead from another clownish group in town, the Troubies, they have decided to take on a Shakespeare play. The cast is back with one replacement, though this time they switched around the roles: Kevin Klein as Sad Clown/Romeo, Raymond Lee as Mischievous Clown/Mercutio, Alexis Jones as Angry Clown/Juliet, and newbie Zach Steel as Nervous Clown/Tybalt.
I did not enjoy the event as much as I did the first show, although the majority of the audience was roaring with laughter. In their other show the clowns were able to stick to their archetypes no matter what roles they played. Here they switch roles frequently and while this can, in itself, be amusing, we lose a lot of the clowns’ personality along the way and the characters, though differentiated, are missing that extra layer.
Still their clowning was masterful and extremely clever.
- Robert Machray
The 4 Clowns troupe, which won the Best in Physical Theater Award at last year’s Fringe, is back this year with their irreverent adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Sticking (more or less) to the Shakespeare’s original story line, the clowns add their own comedic interpretation and subplots. The plot in one sentence: Romeo (played a la Keanu Reeves by Kevin Klein), still stinging from the loss of his one true love, Rosaline, is smitten once again by the fair Juliet (Alexis Jones), who appears to have a rather strange relationship with her nurse (played alternately by Klein and Zach Steel), who also has a thing for Romeo, who is secretly married to Juliet by the Friar (Raymond Lee), who then has to devise a plan to allow them to be together after Romeo is banished for killing Tybalt (Steel) in revenge for killing his friend Mercutio (Lee) in a street fight.
The cast is extremely talented at eking hilarity from the subtle and zany alike. They also enjoy deviating from the script whenever necessary. (Warning: do not come late and try to sneak in unnoticed.) The production also includes a healthy dose of audience participation (or, as another reviewed called it, audience abuse.)
In case you have not been sufficiently warned, despite the title, this is not a production for anyone under the age of, well, 40. If some of the bits fall flat or go over the top, there’s always another laugh right around the corner. And so if your funny bone tends anywhere towards the juvenile, you are sure to be thoroughly entertained.
- Joel Elkins
Through twisted humor, live music, and audience interaction Four Clowns gives clowning some much needed street cred with their very loose (loose in both the literary and promiscuous senses) adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. For this Hollywood Fringe Festival performance, clowns Hamper, Scooter, Biff, and Clementine take on all of the roles of Shakespeare’s most famous classic to present the play in an abbreviated and updated clown format “Where for art thou?” gets replaced with cut aways to boy-band spoofs and confused clown-style anal sex scenes. Alexis Jones, Kevin Klein, Zach Steel, and Raymond Lee are talented, crowd-pleasing, and hilarious, with Lee standing out as particularly engaging. Working through the comedically gifted and exceptionally well matched troupe, director Jeremy Aluma orchestrates the fast-paced and freaky Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet with perfect comedic timing.
- Mialka Bonadonna-Morano
When you think of clowns, you probably don’t think of Romeo And Juliet, and when you think of Romeo And Juliet, you probably don’t imagine Juliet telling her beloved, “You are the sun in the sky. I can’t wait for you to be that guy … who fucks me tonight.”
No, you probably don’t imagine R & J having wheelbarrow sex on their honeymoon night, or the Friar reassuring Juliet that after she takes the “poison” he’s given her, “Your body will be cold but your vagina will be piping hot,” or the above characters’ faces painted white, red, and blue—that is, unless you’ve seen Four Clowns: Romeo & Juliet, the latest creation of the quartet of Pierrots who call themselves (what else?) Four Clowns, and who’ve taken the Fringe world by storm.
The conception of Jeremy Aluma (who must have one of the most fiendishly warped senses of humor in the entertainment world), Four Clowns have unleashed their take on Shakespeare’s most famous couple, and a wilder, crazier (and as you’ve probably already figured out), raunchier ninety minutes of fun and frolic you’re unlikely ever to have had—unless you’ve seen one of their previous shows.
Quirky Alexis Jones is Scooter, aka Angry Clown. Buff Kevin Klein is Biff, aka Sad Clown. Cute Raymond Lee is Hamper, aka Mischievous Clown. Frizzy-locked Zach Steel is Clementine, aka Nervous Clown. According to press materials, Four Clowns: Romeo And Juliet “explores themes of youth, love, lust and vengeance,” though perhaps not quite so allegorically as they did when they went (to quote LA Theatre Review about the original Four Clown show) “though the stages of life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death.” Here, they simply bring to life the major players of Shakespeare’s most romantic tragedy, including look-unalikes Klein and Steel as a pair of dueling Nurses.
With script by William Shakespeare (yes, indeed the Bard does get writing credit along with a septet of adapters) and direction by Aluma, Four Clowns: Romeo And Juliet sticks quite closely to the story we know so well, with some adjustments.
To begin with, all four performers do indeed wear clown makeup (including big red stick-on noses) from start to finish. Their basic attire (wifebeaters, shorts, and leggings) gets added onto in a variety of ways to create the many characters they play, along with various voices and accents and a certain amount of gender-bending.
The balcony scene is there, of course, but now Romeo wonders from atop a ladder, “Is that Juliet or is that a desk lamp?” When Juliet asks him, “How did you get here,” Romeo replies “Love,” upon which he begins warbling a chorus of “Love Lifts Me Up Where I Belong.” When the Friar concocts a magic potion for Juliet, he’s accompanied by stage-right piano whiz Mario Granville tickling the ivories to “Theme From Mission Impossible.” When Juliet emerges from her “death” coma, Romeo wonders aloud if she’s a zombie or a ghost.
If you haven’t already guessed, Four Clowns shows are not for children. The Nino Rota “Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet” features new lyrics about Juliet’s panties. Juliet dreams of a honeymoon night when she and Romeo can do “all those wonderful things I’ve seen on that Internet porn.” Following that wheelbarrow sex (simulated, in case you were wondering), Romeo asks Juliet “Can we fuck like normal folk now?” upon which he butt-fucks her with his foot—in pantomime, that is. There’s a good deal of scatological humor thrown in too, in addition to some G-rated jokes that are just plain funny in a wacky sort of way, as when Lady Capulet informs us that “Juliet’s bedroom walls are made of Brazil nuts,” or when Romeo is joined by the three other clowns in a competition to see who can be sadder than Romeo himself is, pining for his Rosaline.
Even the audience gets to pipe up from time to time. One member is invited to play a role from his seat, reading lines like, “I am the Prince and my dick hangs to the left,” and the entire crowd is invited to shout out, “Come to the Capulet party! Come to the Capulet party!!”
All four performers have mastered the art of clowning, as well as being whizzes at switching from character to character, ad-libbing, and being as out-and-out outrageous as four clowns can be. Like Blue Man Group, we never see their real faces, and like Blue Man Group, they may well be on their way to worldwide success, or at least nationwide fringe fame. (July, August, and September will take them to festivals in Phoenix, Minnesota, and San Francisco.)
Design credit is shared by Yelena Babinskaya (lighting), Cat Elrod (costumes), Billie Escalante (make-up), Jeff Eisenman, Fred Kinney, and Stacy Walter (set), and Adam Smith (sound), with Elrod and Escalante getting the biggest snaps, for obvious reasons. Geronimo Guzman is technical director and Jazmine Green seamstress. Sharing adaptation credit are Aluma, Jones, Klein, Lee, Amir Levi, Quincy Newton, and Steel.
I’m not sure if Four Clowns: Romeo And Juliet qualifies as “great theater” in the traditional sense. It is, however, wild, raunchy, and about as original as they come—and if you don’t laugh (out loud and often), then you’re a Grumpy Clown indeed.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: Romeo & Juliet
There’s even less original dialogue in Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet. Here, the performers read the script, then tossed it out. And yes, they’re that kind of clown, with whiteface designs representing the archetypal mischievous, nervous, happy and sad characters. “Romeo is the sad clown. He just is,” says director and troupe founder Jeremy Aluma. Other obvious choices included mischievous for Mercutio and nervous for Tybalt. Four Clowns made their debut as the inaugural act for the Hollywood Fringe last year and toured their original show around the country. The company’s version of R&J is meant to blaze new paths not just for the Bard but for clowning as well.
“My understanding of clowns is that they’re completely innocent,” says performer Raymond Lee, “whereas in this show we had to be able to articulate ourselves verbally, to explore violence and sensuality.”
- Kerry Lengel
Also, “shows like Four Clowns, left Fringe 2010 for continuous and extended runs to high acclaim,” continues Hill.
4 Clowns, conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma, was nominated for the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival Best World Premiere and won the 2010 Hollywood Fringe Festival Best in Dance and Physical Theatre. Since its festival premiere, Four Clowns, as it’s now spelled, has played at the Sacred Fools Theatre in Los Angeles and at the Long Beach Playhouse. This summer the production will tour nationally including the San Francisco and Minnesota Fringe Festivals.
Four Clowns is a physical, musical and emotional journey into what it means to be a human being. The evening consists of a series of comedy skits portraying the human condition presented by the Sad Clown, the Angry Clown, the Mischievous Clown and the Nervous Clown. When asked about the after-life of his show, Aluma says, “The Fringe Festival not only gave us the feeling that we could continue this show but I also made the many connections necessary to extend the life of the piece. Los Angeles is like an incubator. It’s easier for us to get shows up than it is in Chicago or New York. To work a show and get it great and then take it around the country just felt like the natural next step. The Hollywood Fringe literally inspired our show to become a troupe.”
Aluma is returning to the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2011 with Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet. “We’re using Shakespeare’s play as our jumping off point. Romeo is the Sad Clown, Juliet is the Angry Clown. Mercutio is the Mischievous Clown and Tybalt is the Nervous Clown,” Aluma says. In addition there’s a fifth clown who, “has seen the play and thinks it’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and wants to put it on with his buddies.”
“Tragedies are ultimately funnier than comedies when you adapt them,” continues Aluma. “There’s murder, there’s suicide but there’s also love. Violence and sex, that’s what people really appreciated in Four Clowns, so those elements are definitely still there.”