Tragic and Therefore Comic

Theatre for a New Audience just wrapped up a double-hander, Marcel and The Art of Laughter, two delightful one-act plays.

In the first, the squat, cheery Marcel (Marcello Magni) arrives for an examination of his clowning skills; in the logic of clowning, however, each action he takes, each objection in the room is designed for maximum frustration: thus, when he fails in front of the examiner (Jos Houben), he succeeds in front of us.  All manner of obstacles are thrown his way—doors, coat-hangers, “diabolical” chairs—and Mr. Magni spends much of his time onstage attentively working through the task at hand while heaving his shoulders between mouthfuls of air.  It is a testament to his skill that he can not only find comedy in such quotidian actions as lighting a cigarette, but that he can find tragedy in them as well.  This is where clowning is most effective, when it magnifies the mundane in order to uncover its latent drama.

In the second, The Art of Laughter, Mr. Houben offers a seminar on his craft.  His take on comedy is largely practical rather than theoretical, and he does a wonderful job illustrating the potential for humor in the various postures of the human body; his own lanky, bird-like frame furnishes him with the ideal canvas for all sorts of aping and mugging.  Of course, sometimes the secret to laughter is simple.  “You would like, now, for me to get hurt?” he smiles at his audience about halfway through The Art of Laughter.  Pain, it seems—other’s people pain—will always be funny.

Marcel and The Art of Laughter ran through November 19th at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center.  262 Ashland Place  Brooklyn, NY.  2 hours 15 minutes.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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