Not Just For Shock Value
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 14, 2007
The billing on the cover of the program reads, "Kendall Cornell's Soon-to-Be-World-Famous Women's Clown Troupe in Not Just for Shock Value." Let's make them famous, right away. If anybody deserves it, these nine women, and their remarkable director, do.
Not Just for Shock Value is a hilarious 80-minute revue of tomfoolery, except "tom" doesn't sound right at all. It offers the thoroughly novel experience of watching nine females do the kind of broad, physical, and occasionally vulgar shtick and silliness that we usually see males do, but always done with a female sensibility (there's no Lucille Ball-pretending-to-be-a-hobo in this show). We also see them stretch the notion of Clown beyond the red nose/baggy pants/bulky shoes/kids' birthday party/Ringling Bros/Bozo image that too many of us hold (they do always wear red noses, however). And, most significantly, we see them do routines that, in the hands of men, would either fail or offend or both; they really bring their gender, with all that that implies, with them in this show; and they score some wonderful, smart feminist points at almost every turn, without ever making us feel like we've been lectured.
No, mainly what we feel is that we're having a blast, because Not Just for Shock Value is so darned much fun. There's a piece in which three of the performers sing in the style of an early '60s girl group, except what they're singing about is the lethal consequence of their boyfriend's infidelity (take that, Roxie Hart!). Another features a weird chorus of oversized pregnant mothers, while yet another includes a nun (with a red nose) and a woman practicing yoga contemplating spirituality and religion. Practically every comic idea lands, which is remarkably impressive; and the range of these ideas, as I've just indicated, is pretty impressive as well.
The troupe comprises nine women: Melinda Ferraraccio, Kathie Horejsi, Emily James, Ishah Jannsen-Faith, Mona Le Roy, Judi Lewis Ockler, Julie Plumettaz, Maria Smushkovich, and Virginia Venk. They're all terrific, but I'm going to single out two of them as particular favorites (your results may differ). Jannsen-Faith is all over the place in this show, but her set piece/monologue, offering a very contemporary twist on opening Pandora's Box, is excellent. And Smushkovich is a hoot as Carmen Miranda and, in one of the most inspired sketches of the evening, the hostess at a Russian burlesque house (just the way she wears her mink stole in this piece is worth a thousand laughs).
Kendall Cornell is the brilliant creator/director of Not Just for Shock Value, and her work here is splendid. Not only has she brought out the best in her ensemble in a collaborative process that probably ought to be patented, but she's built the show seamlessly, with the best transitions I think I've ever seen in a show of this kind, all fashioned around the show's only permanent set piece, which is a very long shower curtain on an even longer line.
Here's a word I don't throw around very often, and I use it here in the most flattering way: Not Just for Shock Value is not just crackerjack entertainment, but a highly commercial one as well. If any off-Broadway producer-types are reading this (paging Daryl Roth), you really need to see this show. A transfer to a bigger venue is just what's needed to make these Soon-to-be-World-Famous clowns world-famous Right Now—and also to ensure that as many audience members as possible get to have a grand time at one of the funniest and best-assembled shows in town.