How to Give Up on Your Dreams: By Not Really Trying
nytheatre.com review by Daniel John Kelley
September 20, 2010
One of the most exciting parts of clown theatre is its ability to explore the deepest, darkest fears of people in a way that is both hilariously funny and that sheds light on these deep-seated anxieties. Zea Barker's solo show How To Give Up On Yours Dreams: By Not Really Trying makes a bold stab at doing just this. The show plunges into the culture of self-actualization, and why people go in for it, and attempts to comically turn it on its head. While Barker's show does not succeed completely in doing this, that's also kind of the point. And part of the problem with it.
The essential premise of the show is that we, the audience, are at a make-shift self-help session, run by a nervous and insecure self-help clown guru, played by Barker. The set is made of cardboard signs, with self-help slogans written on them in black marker, and the only kind of PowerPoint available is from Barker's clown's pointing fingers. Barker's self-effacing clown host bumbles through an anti-self-help lecture specifically designed to help us give up on believing in ourselves and stop us from having any sort of dreams or goals for our lives. According to her, all these things really give us is grief and disappointment, so we may as well stop striving for them. Barker's anti-self help logic in this part of the show is quite funny and engaging—Barker plays cleverly with reverse self-help slogans, and humorously play-acts-out the dreams of audience members in order to "get rid" of them. Eventually the structured portion of the show breaks down hilariously, as Barker's clown's incompetence and insecurity undermine her anti-self-help session. The show has the chance to run off the rails here, but Barker's natural rapport with the audience keeps us at ease, and willing and able to be involved with what's going on.
The climax of the show comes at this late point in the show, when the self-help session has spun wildly out of control, and Barker's clown is reduced to a sobbing mess, who finally admits the dream that fueled this whole session and that she herself is trying to get rid of. Unfortunately, Barker's choice of dreams/goals for her clown doesn't feel weighty enough to support the show. The dreams of this clown are not epic and human and relatable, they're slight and petty and self-indulgent. In making this choice, the show is prevented from going into deeper ground. In the end, How To Give Up On Yours Dreams: By Not Really Trying does not succeed in getting the audience to give up on their dreams—which, in Barker's own clown logic, means she has, in fact, succeeded: If her goal is to make the audience give up on their dreams, and she does not succeed, and does not try again, and gives up...then she has, in fact, succeeded. She has given up on her goal! Make sense? Perhaps in the world of Barker's clown, it does. But the result of this logic is that we, the audience, are left with a slight and amusing piece of theatre, starring an engaging performer, that cuts its own effectiveness off short. Perhaps this is the point of the piece, but personally, I found myself wishing the considerably talented Barker had set herself a different goal. Regardless, I'll look forward to the next opportunity to see Barker's work—and you should too.