By Richard Ades
Clowntime Is Over has been touted as a typical MadLab play, and that’s an accurate description. Written by Joseph E. Green, it’s the kind of small, dark and weirdly offbeat work we’ve come to expect from the theater on North Third.
But that’s not the only reason MadLab fans will eat it up. The play also gives them the chance to see two familiar actors spread their wings in unfamiliar ways.
Andy Batt (who also directs) has never been averse to trying new things, but he’s seldom stretched himself as far as he does here. As TV clown Max P. Twinkle, he’s sardonic, morose and morbidly philosophical. He also has great comic timing, which helps to keep Green’s play from getting bogged down in existential angst.
The equally familiar Stephen Woosley is normally less chameleonic than Batt, but there’s nothing Woosley-like about Paco, the mouse he plays during a short but spirited appearance. Just as Batt’s Max brings humor to the tale, Woosley’s Paco brings energy, and lots of it.
Adding to the novelty of their performances is Suzanne Camilli’s liberally applied makeup, which ensures that neither Batt nor Woosley looks anything like himself.
Green’s metaphorical story is set in the TV studio where Max normally presents his children’s show. One fateful day, however, he arrives to find his crew is AWOL. Even more strangely, the “bunny” and “llama” who also appear on the show seem to be just that: a bunny and a llama. At any rate, their costumes have no zippers in sight.
Shana Kramer and Chad Hewitt play Susie the Bunny and Tidy the Llama, respectively. Of the two, Kramer’s Susie makes a stronger impression. Hewitt has been great in other shows—most notably as Nick in an early-2015 production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—but his portrayal seemed a bit too understated on opening night.
The four actors—as well as an unseen snake that plays a pivotal role—do their thing on Brendan Michna’s creatively designed set.
So what is Green’s play about? Oh, about 75 minutes. Sorry. I normally would have resisted such an obvious joke, but the show’s brevity happens to be one of its best qualities. It has some funny moments, as well as some biblically inspired ponderings about life and death, but it doesn’t hang together well enough to support a longer running time.
You want my best guess? I think Green meant it as a Christian metaphor, but that doesn’t explain everything.
Of course, one advantage of the show’s brevity is that you’ll have plenty of time to head to a bar or coffee shop afterward and look for your own meaning. And even if you don’t find any, at least you can bask in the memory of witnessing two familiar actors doing very unfamiliar things.
Clowntime Is Over runs through Sept. 5 at MadLab Theatre and Gallery, 227 N. Third St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Tickets are $15, $13 students/seniors, $10 members. 614-221-5418 or madlab.net.