New York Goof Show
nytheatre.com review by Keelie A. Sheridan
August 5, 2010
I never thought I'd say it, but here goes: I respect clowns as performers. And I respect clowning as an art form And the New York Goofs can take most of the credit for this. Admittedly, most of my previous experience with clowning included a series of underwhelming and unfocused birthday performers and a brief, half-hearted introductory course at summer camp, yet despite repeated clowning disappointments, I've long fostered a seemingly unsubstantiated hope that there was more to it than the noses and the faces and the slapstick. And there is. Not to say that there isn't a place for noses and faces and slapstick, but they're merely ingredients in a much bigger and more complex performance stew.
My evening with the New York Goofs began with an impromptu discussion on the nature of clowning—by chance I was seated in the audience next to a student from the New York Goofs' two-week Ultimate Clown School who had come to watch her teachers perform. As we waited for the show to begin, we discussed the various performance elements that make up clowning: movement, character, improvisation, circus skills, etc. She was a teacher in partial retirement from Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, and she was exploring clowning as an early retirement present to herself. We discussed the way that her new found clowning skills would transfer easily into her teaching career. It occurred to me that clowning, while intimidating in some ways, seemed very beginner-friendly—the type of art form that embraces its artists as individuals with their own unique stories who may have lived full and long lives before finding their way to this type of performance art.
The cast of eight (including the obscenely cute ten-year old stagehand / son of two Goofs) lead the audience through a series of short vignettes that touch frequently and firmly upon reality before spinning off into silly, clever, and refreshingly honest stage antics. Through a combination of canned and live music (accordion and musical saw, anyone?), a cohesive yet ever-changing soundtrack provides an appropriate throughline for the progression of the evening. The diverse ensemble of solid performers, featuring Dick Monday, Tiffany Riley, Joel Jeske, Hilary Chaplain, Jay Stewart, Larry Pisoni, Evelyn Tuths, Chet Monday, and Hovey Burgess, is largely successful in relating to its equally diverse audience, ranging in age from approximately 5-75. Joel Jeske, who provides a dry, slightly morbid and distinctly New York-flavor to the mix, was a standout for me.
Upon reflection, I think it's safe to say that the largest single factor in my enjoyment of this evening was the inherently human approach to the material. Yes, the makeup and the gags are there, but behind most scenes is a real, relatable human story or situation, the presence of which makes the art form significantly more accessible. I think The Flea is a perfectly sized venue—this genre that frequents huge stadiums and big-top tents is also quite enjoyable in a more intimate setting. The clowns presented by the New York Goofs are recognizable as real people with heightened characteristics commenting on life, and their effectiveness could be heard in the laughter and audible sighs of the completely diverse and totally invested audience. So check them out if you can, and bring a kid, or your partner, or your grandma, or all of the above. There's truly something for everyone here.