Theatre Conspiracy delivers comedic noir murder mystery with production of “Clown Bar”
Artistic Director Bill Taylor has been at the helm of Theatre Conspiracy at the Alliance for the Arts since 1984. Over the decades, he’s brought some pretty unusual shows to the stage. One time he put an actress in a kayak in the middle of the theater and seated the audience in a circle around her. In another, a cast of ten women played men on boats mapping the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869. So, when Taylor read the script for “Clown Bar,” his radar for the strange and unusual went into overdrive.
“It just struck a chord with me,” said Taylor. “It’s one of those shows that you read and actually see it play out in your mind, which historically means it’s going to be a very good show in my eyes.”
While an open casting call filled some of the slots, Taylor cast most of the major roles with the usual Theatre Conspiracy suspects, including Shelley Sanders, who last appeared on the Alliance stage as one-armed explorer John Wesley Powell in “Men on Boats.”
“If Bill Taylor asks me to do something, I usually say ‘yes,’ and I didn’t even know what I was agreeing to initially, but he seemed excited about it so I knew it was going to be something different and unusual,” said Sanders.
“This theater company likes to put me in interesting situations, so this is one they haven’t tried yet and I guess I’m ready to give it a go.”
Taylor describes the show as clown noir. For c0ntext think “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” meets “The Maltese Falcon” except with clowns instead of cartoon characters.
“It’s going to appeal to a very broad audience,” said Sanders. “There’s a lot of different genres that are touched on – film noir, clowns, the absurdity of the whole situation.”
The allusion to “The Maltese Falcon” was one of the hooks that snagged Taylor, who is a self-professed Humphrey Bogart enthusiast.
“That was the connection, being a Humphrey Bogart fan, having that film noir background, it really struck a chord with me and I could see how an audience would have just a blast watching this,” said Taylor.
Humphrey Bogart’s name is synonymous with film noir. One of the great leading men of classic Hollywood cinema, Bogart spent much of his career bringing dark, tragic, and complex characters to life in movies like “Key Largo,” “High Sierra,” “Dark Passage,” and of course “Casablanca.”
While “Clown Bar” doesn’t have Humphrey Bogart, it does have period piece specialist Steven Coe in the lead, but he’s more than just the expected film noir detective. He’s also a former clown.
“You have a detective who used to be a clown whose brother was recently murdered and he comes back to the clown bar to find out who murdered his brother,” Taylor summarizes. “So it’s that search for justice that’s happening during the course of the show.”
“Clown Bar” has all of the features typically found in film noir movies – the enigmatic detective, a femme fatale, cut-throat criminals, mysterious lighting and a grungy, seedy smoke-filled bar.
“So, one of the things that we’re doing to make this show a little more immersive is the entire theater is being transformed to a bar,” Taylor divulges.
“The stage is not just a stage. There will be audience seating up there. The area where audience seating normally is will have café tables and chairs. We’re bringing in a couple of booths that we’re going to be making. So the whole place will be a bar.”
In partnership with Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, the bar will indeed be serving adult beverages including beer, wine and cocktails all served by clowns, including Shelley Sanders who, much to her consternation, will be on roller skates throughout the entire show.
Scott Thomson, who plays a sad sack clown by the name of Dusty, encourages people to show up well ahead of show time.
“The show will open about 45 minutes after the actual bar opens,” Thomson said. “So you can come in. It’s a lounge-style setting. It’s not on stage. We get to play with all the audience and I will be doing a lot of that because I enjoy tormenting people. But you can sit and have a drink during the show. You can get another drink during the show, and get another drink during the show, and I’ll be sitting, drinking with you, probably.”
While ambiance is a priority, this pop-up bar is a Clown-Mafia operation. As a result, many of the clown bar denizens are deeply suspicious of outsiders, as Cicero McCarter, who plays Giggles, relates in the show’s tone-setting opening number.
What are you doing here?
Drinking all our clowny beer?
Stinking up our atmosphere
I’ve never seen you before
You’re not a gangster nor a whore
Tell me a joke
Who asked you to come?
Drink all of our rum?
You’re just a bum
You’re not welcome!
Not everyone is as crusty as Giggles. Shelley Sanders’ character, Petunia, can be very…accommodating. Sanders describes Petunia as “the town bicycle,” a transactional bar fly who’ll do just about anything to make a buck.
But make no mistake. “Clown Bar” is first and foremost a comedy, albeit with something of a macabre twist, as Scott Thomson is wont to underscore.
“It’s going to be very funny,” said Thomson. “If you’re willing to let your mind be in the theater instead of outside in the world, it’s going to be funny. It’s about clowns and we do some clowny stuff and a lot of people don’t end up finishing the play at the end, but that’s how clowns roll.”
“Clown Bar” runs Aug. 18 - 28 at the Alliance for the Arts’ Claiborne and Ned Foulds Theater. Seating is limited and assigned on a first-come first-served basis, so arrive early and enjoy an adult beverage or two with Dusty, Petunia and the rest of the troupe.
The boozers are all boozing
The audience are dozing
Like wresting a laugh from a stone
The clowns have all gone home
The boozers all are boozing
The users all are using
I guess I’ll drink alone
The clowns have all gone home
To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.
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