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Four Clowns, One Stage

David Bridel tours Lunatics and Actors

Anthony Karambelas

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One fateful night in downtown Los Angeles, an unsuspecting live theater audience of eighty is about to meet their wit’s end. Regardless of background, each member leaves the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles a changed person.

It’s show time. The lights dim and the cheerful chatter of the audience subsides; the spectators do not know it yet, but there is nothing they can do to prepare themselves for the hidden menace backstage. The actors are already at places…or shall we say, the Lunatics and the actors.

Written by David Bridel and put on by the nationally touring clown troupe Four Clowns, the play Lunatics and Actors is set in a 19th century Parisian clinic, where an unsettling field of scientific study is being pioneered. Based on the historical experiments of French neurologist, Duchenne de Boulogne, Lunatics offers a peek at one of Dr. Duchenne’s scientific demonstrations involving electrophysiology, in which he seeks to substantiate the chilling declaration, “I can make anyone feel anything.”

Dr. Duchenne (Tad Shafer) infuses emotion by means of electric shock into three of his unfeeling test subjects or lunatics, Bon-Bon (Tyler Bremer), Pepe (Andrew Eldredge), and Fifi (Alexis Jones).

Lunatics involve extensive audience participation, inviting members onstage at one point to be prospective test subjects.

While Lunatics thrills the audience, its underlying message goes much deeper. “[Lunatics] was very exciting, frightful, and yet deeply meaningful,” said audience member Madison Dunn. “I learned that you couldn’t force emotion out of people. That even though inspiration doesn’t come automatically, the beauty of it is that’s how we are and that’s how we’re made.”

This was certainly the intent of the director, Jeremy Aluma, who wanted to explore what it means to be “authentic” as an actor. Noticing prominent film stars who took their roles very far – like Heath Ledger as the Joker – Aluma wanted to answer the questions, “How far is okay? When does it stop becoming acting and start becoming a psychosis? When you live very truthfully are you still acting or are you tapping into a different part of your brain and becoming something?”

The charismatic director Aluma noted that he’ll be heading to Chicago shortly to pursue an MFA, and will therefore have to discontinue his work with Four Clowns.

After the April 29 world premiere of the production, actor Alexis Jones and Tyler Bremer offered their perspective on the production.

Jones stated that she quit graduate school at Long Beach State to become a clown at The Clown School, because she felt it offered a rewarding type of “struggle.” On her role in Lunatics, Jones commented how her character is “nervous and luckily, so am I. People always say, ‘the more you act, it get’s easier.’ It doesn’t for me.”

For Jones, being in character is a lot about acting to her fullest “within the confines of [her] character.” Bremer also felt the same way, jesting how he works “with the frame of mind of a guy who’s been fried one too many times.”

About his artistic process, Bremer added that performing in Lunatics involved a lot of “stripping away.” Or in other words, simplifying his acting technique to adopt a more sluggish demeanor, which his role in the play demanded.

“It’s like a record-skipping. So if I heard a sound [my] attention would go there, and then lapse there,” Bremer said. “I look at Duchenne, I would lapse there, and then come back not knowing where I was.”

In the end, the main goal of Lunatics and Actors was to spur discussion about the emotional authenticity of an actor and what “authenticity” even means. The Four Clowns company certainly accomplished their mission.

“Yeah, I have my own opinions, but I’m more interested in what other people think about what is real and what is okay,” director Aluma said.

What is the line between acting and lunacy? Find out for yourself by going to www.fourclowns.org for tickets and further details.

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