The Pilo Family Circus
Toward the end of the seemingly endless "The Pilo Family Circus" at the New Ohio Theater, one of the dystopian clowns utters this line, "Well a night of utter bullshit has come to an end." I hoped it was true, but yet the show continued.
This piece was directed with bravado by Joe Tantalo and adapted by Matt Pelfrey from a commissioned piece written by the Australian Will Elliot for the Godlight Theatre. There is so much talent and inventiveness in actors, stage designers, light and energy on the wide stage at the New Ohio Theater that is such a shame it is squandered on a piece that seems to delight in the ability to use the word FUCK, a word I adore, in so many numbing sentences.
The premise of this play is that the world as we know it with all its wars, financial melt downs and attendant horrors is wrought by the whim of a priest on ten foot stilts who controls a cadre of malevolent clowns. These clowns -- Winston, Rufshod, Doopy, Goshy and the newest clown JJ -- all do the bidding of Kurt Pilo, the circus owner and also the stilted priest. These hapless clowns are sent off on sorties of arson, murder or plain old mayhem. They wreck havoc with a giggle and a flap of floppy shoes.
The audience enters a theater filled with smoke and lite by strings of bare light bulbs. Loud electronic music jangles the air. We learn that the lead actor Nick Paglino, who plays both Jamie the human and JJ the meanest clown with great aplomb, has just encountered a scene that resembled "a circus that has been poured into a blender."
As the play unfolds in flashback from the carnage of the circus in a blender to explaining how it all got so weird, we learn that "The Pilo Family Circus" co-opts or steals a variety of folks and transforms them into clowns or acrobats or toadies. It is akin to the Island of Lost Boys in Pinocchio. Once in this "other dimension" the new residents are hazed, beaten and transformed. We are told that, "the nicer the man, the meaner the clown" and wonder what it all means in the realm of art or life.
In the end we circle back to the scene of reality and carnage, relieved that the mean, sadistic clowns have been blown up and even more pleased to exit the theater and breath the icy air of February, which never seemed so sweet.
The play tells us that "clowns appeal to the rebellious, cruel and wicked" I thought I embodied many of those characteristics, but perhaps I was wrong. Or perhaps clowns, like humans, come in many guises and the ones populating "The Pilo Family Circus" should be approached with extreme caution and a thick skin.
"The Pilo Family Circus" runs through Feb. 23 at The New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street. For info or tickets, visit www.newohiotheater.org