The theme of the story can be likened to the spirit of a verse from a John Lennon song: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making plans” (from “Beautiful Boy”).
The first unexpected is being offered a free beer upon entrance into the theater (and it’s a designer beer too.) The theater is nearly full and the seated audience is already being entertained by a clown fawning for affection and laughter. People are all smiles and curious as to what will unfold for the Four Clowns presentation of “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah”.
A young woman at the front row is being wooed by the clown. He draws her out to the stage, and they do a Simon Says act in mime. She’s surprisingly good as she follows his soft shoe dance and improvise some of her own. I wondered if she was a member of the troupe. She was a good sport regardless.
“Butterbeans Arbuckle” (Don Colliver) shoos away the clown from the stage. He’s half dressed in a white shirt and underwear. He butters up the audience with jokes. He flirts with the females (“Who likes sausage?” A drizzling of hands go up and he picks on a pretty woman. “We’ll talk later after the show. I know of a good sausage place in Echo Park.”) He cajoles the audience to imbibe on the free booze. Finally, he chooses a volun’told’ member of the audience to be his scapegoat should any any mishaps and failures befall the evening’s presentation. “Leopold, I’m blaming it on you.”
Butterbeans runs to the back of the curtain and hails fists upon the clown for good measure of proof that he will not accept failure or fault. Lights dim down, and the show begins. Welcome to an authentic American vaudeville. In a few minutes Butterbeans is back with his assistant Nimrod (Elizabeth Godley). Nimrod’s costume is a bowler’s hat and a black vest over a white shirt, and she holds an orange cone that pipes her squeaky voice. Her enthusiasm and sweet adoration of Butterbeans wins the audience’s hearts from the get go. Already the story is rich with characters that has possibilities of the unexpected.
The show is kicked off by the Inderdorf Twins (Jennifer Carroll and Dave Honigman). Their suggestive blue dialogue was, at first, strange to my ears until the the light went on – Ahh…that’s better. The twins describes their clean country living at the farm in the alps with strange acrobatic forms and sexual innuendos of “collecting morning wood” and “riding the chicken”. The risque content is standard fare of vaudevilles. “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah” is complete with a burlesque act by Blonde Burlesque (Jamie Franta). Her mystique is the brave face she puts on and puts out. The black eyeliner, false lashes, bright red lips on creamy skin is arresting. There’s an awkward sexuality beneath the facade. I play along and want her to seduce me with her dance, costume and song. Then she braces for the finale of her act. “Here goes nothing!” she hopes, and shakes her titties to twirl the tassles of her brassiere that covers a modest 34B cup (maybe).
Between the first and second acts a mysterious character calls out from the darkness. “Soo wee!” the voice hollers, and Butterbeans falls into a hypnotic trance that is a combination turret-body contortion that disengages him from his normal faculty into a puppet. The voice is The Real McCoy (Jolene Kim), a figure in an all white western getup that haunts Butterbeans throughout the show. She taunts him to give up his dream of theater and accept that the future is in something outside himself. The latest magic is in technology which The Real McCoy claims as what Butterbeans wants. She holds up the magic wand beyond his reach like the forbidden apple on the tree of knowledge. The relationship between Butterbeans and the Real McCoy is symbolic of the hero and his inner dragon that taunts him to fail.
This relationship and its battles weave in and out through the show; they are the shadows to the light of the heartful comedic acts of: Madame La Merde (Helene Udy) who walks in stilts to spin plates on towers; the angelic singing of Pruella Tickledick (Charlotte Chanler); the liquor vendor (Julia Davis), and a handkerchief trick show by Nimrod. Her expressions are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Tramp’. Nimrod catches a teary-eyed audience, the same woman dancing on stage earlier. They have touching interlude that gives the audience some breathing space as the conflict mounts to a crescendo, like the wave building momentum to its crest.
The story has a lot of moving pieces like a chessboard game with each player having a specific contribution to the whole. Their common goal is to pull it all together for the audience. The mayhem culminates with The Real McCoy and her henchmans (Tyler Bremer and Jamarr Love) turning the stage into a scene from ancient Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and it is left to Butterbeans and Nimrod to save the the Halfwits from The Real McCoy. How does the hero face his dragon?
The unexpected of this wonderful souffle is the texture of airy lightness of the Halfwits’ performances to the soul-satisfying struggle of Butterbeans to overcome the struggle with The Real McCoy. It is the forbearance of the heroes to be in the light, thus their last Hurrah! and to shed their mediocrity to be the bright stars on stage as well as to be immortalized in the memory and hearts of the audience.
Four Clowns production of “The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah” is the company’s 5th appearance at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
The last performance of the show for the Fringe is this Friday, June 26th at 10:30 in the Lillian Theater located at 1076 Lillian Way LA. CA. 90038.
Get tickets through this link: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2166?tab=tickets