Toronto Festival of Clowns is full of very dark humour
The Toronto Festival of Clowns is not your typical red-nose or balloon-animal-making clown experience. This international festival--which came to the Scotiabank Studio Theatre at Pia Bouman School in Parkdale this weekend--highlighted some of the world's top clowns, bouffons and physical theatre artists. Now in its seventh year, the Toronto Festival of Clowns caters to a more adult, sick-and-twisted variety of entertaining. Dave McKay, Sarah Buski and Adam Lazarus started it all and there's no festival in Toronto quite like it.
I caught Death and Other Discomforts (a Triple Bill) on a rainy Friday night. And let me tell you, it sure challenged my assumptions of what I thought clowns were all about.
Death and Other Discomforts told three rather different and disparate stories, linked only through their equal doses of macabre and absurdity:
It started off with "Preacher Man", featuring performer/playwright Jesse LaVercombe's deadpan delivery of the minutes leading up to his execution by electric chair. It's a moment he's been relishing for 20 years. Before he goes, the audience is privy to his life growing up in rural Virginia to a Bible-thumping dad and a cow for a mom. "That's not a metaphor," we're told. Well paced and chillingly told, this co-directed act by Adam Lazarus and Jodi Essery set the tone for the night.
What came next, "Baby," was equally unexpected and twice as unsettling. Stephen Jackman-Torkoff wrote and performed a gruelling story of a grown young man who acts like a baby, pleading for attention and adoption. It was at once offensive and engaging. Lazarus and Essery teamed up again for this gem.
There came a shocking moment in the show where the audience was told that it had already legally adopted this child. True enough, there it was in the small print on page three in the program: "With your attendance to this evening's show you have agreed to raise, support, love and nurture this child. All legal rights and responsibilities for said child have been transferred to you. Congratulations on your new addition."
The last portion, "BLEED," was a chilling story performed by Phil Luzi and co-created with Lazarus. The audience became witness to an unusual last will and testament, given by a seemingly normal man named Norman, who wants to end his life by eating glass. Norman's nonchalant delivery almost fooled me, but he was serious about his final act, which ultimately became his own bloody eulogy.
I'd love to see this show performed again closer to Halloween, when we welcome this level of gruesomeness (see Toronto After Dark Film Festival) and could use a hearty dose of this type of clowning.
Photo by Adam Lazarus