Reminiscent of Marat/Sade back in the Sixties, Lunatics and Actors exposes us to the bizarre world of 19th century lunatic asylums where interested by-standers reveled in the novelty, while so-called “dangerous” or deranged inmates roamed free of constraints. That the audience is cast as those by-standers, voyeuristically savoring this strange environment, comes home when volunteers undergo a menacing interrogation at the hands of the decidedly unhinged Dr. Duchenne du Boulogne (Thaddeus Shafer). A volunteer from the audience becomes the guinea pig who will be subjected to the good doctor’s ministrations.
Dead-pan, total commitment on the part of inmates Bon-Bon (Tyler Bremer), Pepe (Andrew Aldredge) and Fifi (Alexis Jones) makes this strange mix of improvisation, clown characterizations and macabre instruments of torture a la 1800 completely compelling, while the volunteer’s “Gee Whiz” approach to acting draws the amusement, and perhaps the ire, of knowledgeable twenty-something onlookers.
Under the direction of Master Clown Jeremy Aluma, his trio of internees and their frightening doctor deepen the menace of the mysterious unfinished playing space and bare-bones lighting. Is this a set, we wonder, or soon to be a series of locked cells?
David Bridel, currently Dean of USC’s School of Theatre, founding artistic director the The Clown School and the playwright of this loosely conceived contrivance, knows how to build on a mixture of comic clowning and horrifying suspense. It is an E-ticket, as we used to say; a thrilling ride with tongue firmly set in cheek, and filled with the exuberance and vitality of our current theatrical climate (despite capitulation to AEA’s revamped “membership company” rules).
PHOTO: Dr. Duchenne (Thaddeus Shafer) puts Tyler Bremer as Bon-Bon, Andrew Aldredge as Pepe and Alexis Jones as Fifi through their paces.
Lunatics & Actors continues Fridays and Saturdays and two Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. through May 28th at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, 1238 First St., Los Angeles, CA 90026. You are warned to arrive early because street parking is scarce. Tickets are $12.00-15.00. Phone (562) 508-1788 and/or www.fourclowns.org for more information.