And since then, well, probably before then even, I’ve held a special place in my heart for these spaces of great repetition, spectacle, and fried summer air. This fascination with carnivals and amusement parks has lead me to watch scores of aimless b-films about killer clowns, funhouses, and all of the other things that turn evil so easily when their sole purpose is not to be. But luckily, there is also a lot of vsionary art attached to the subject too (and I’d love to hear your favorites) and one of these narratives is being told right here in Pittsburgh by Murphi Cook and Zach Dorn, who make up the inventive theater company called Miniature Curiosa. And luckily for you, they are taking their newest play, Tonight! A Clown Will Travel Time on a national tour this summer: http://www.miniaturecuriosa.com/The_Society.html.
Murphi and Zach are scrappy, and just like a good amusement park, they aim first and foremost to entertain. Both of the plays I have seen of theirs have employed a singular set. These sets are constructed like Russian nested dolls, with hidden projectors, stereos, and even live-video recordings and transmissions. Through the insanely creative and playful incorporation of these technologies, they create that uncanny feeling that you might get from watching something like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or reading House of Leaves- that somehow the interior of the space you’re watching the play in has outgrown the exterior.
Tonight! A Clown Will Travel Time is an emotional ride. A clown named Albert Billow’s main impetus for time travel is to change the expression on a young girl’s face in a photograph from a frown to a smile. That a genius in a clown suit would create a time machine for such a personal and seemingly uncomplicated reason is refreshingly candid for a subject (time travel) flooded with confusing philanthropic and scientific pursuits. The pursuit, in this case, focuses on a young girl named Bettina’s emotional response to a tragedy. Getting the time machine to work was a matter of the audience finding the top billboard hit from, if I remember correctly, 1983…though I’m sure this will change. The play’s focus shifts from seemingly impossible feats of engineering to a simple pop song that ran its course thirty years ago, and suggests that maybe one is impossible without the other. And that’s what I love about this play. The seemingly arbitrary residue of pop culture and carnival fluff becomes the engine for a Vaudevillian investigation of the human spirit’s capacity for empathy and action. Miniature Curiosa makes carnivals complicated, and though the time-traveling clown’s mission is to “turn a frown upside down,” these inventive playwrights/actors/artists expose us to all the expressions in between.