By Marisa Demarco
— Clowns have a bad rap, says Devon de Mayo. “People assume that it’s a confrontational art form, that it’s very in your face and a bit aggressive.” Plus, there’s the red nose thing. Her troupe doesn’t do the red nose thing.
So when La Piara was naming its satirical look at borders and war, the members hesitated. But they opted to embrace their art form, and Guerra: A Clown Play was born. “Ultimately, we decided we want to help change that perception. We want to identify it as clown and hope he audience starts to learn about what clown can do.”
The title of the play is a study in contrasts—Guerra means “war”—and so is the troupe’s approach. La Piara is using humor to look at a gruesome aspect of our culture. “Because we’ve broken down a lot of the taboos and made fun of things that are very uncomfortable, people are willing to have a conversation about violence, specifically about what’s going on at the border between the United States and Mexico,” de Mayo says.
The makeup of the theatre troupe crosses that border: Actors hail from Chicago and Mexico City. Through a seed grant from the Theatre Communications Group, they were able to meet for two weeks at a time—once in the States and once in Mexico—to see if their idea would fly.
The multilingual piece doesn’t name countries or characters directly, de Mayo says, but because of who the actors are and the languages being used, the border themes come across. As audiences hear Spanish, English and French, they can attach their own associations to the show. “We’re playing with conventions of wars in times gone by and contemporary war, as well.”
A physical comedy, the play tells the story of an understaffed military outpost and an unlucky general. Camp and silliness propel the narrative. And as is usually the case with clown, there’s no fourth wall. “Typically in a play there’s this imaginary world being created on stage that the audience is observing. But in clown, that doesn’t exist,” de Mayo says. “They’re looking right at the audience. They’re engaging directly with them. They’re really acknowledging that everyone’s in the room together, and anything can happen.”
Touring a show is always a challenge, particularly when, as in Guerra, guns are props. The troupe hasn’t been able to take those props on the road, so the host city has to provide them. But Tricklock, the Albuquerque company behind the Revolutions International Theatre Festival, has ably met all of La Piara’s technical needs, de Mayo says.
Guerra: A Clown Play has been performed in Chicago and New York, but it feels good to perform it in Albuquerque, she says—so much closer to the border. It’s helpful that so many people here are bilingual and in touch with their cultural history, she adds. “We’re all looking forward to seeing how an audience that is that connected reacts to the piece.”
Guerra: A Clown Play
Friday, Jan. 18, 8 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 20, 6 p.m.
National Hispanic Cultural Center
1701 Fourth Street SW
Albuquerque Journal Theatre
Tickets: $23 general admission, $18 students/seniors
Buy them online at Tricklock’s website.