Here’s a piece of military history you’ve probably never heard before: a motley army unnerves its opponents by mooning them. In War Of The Clowns, playwright Mark Brownell takes an arcane bit of history – the Swiss Peasant Revolt of 1653 – and uses it to look at the lives of a group of street entertainers.
“I read something about it in a book by Italian playwright Dario Fo and, as in my other period works such as Monsieur D’Eon Is A Woman and Medici Slot Machine, dug further to find the material for a play,” says Brownell, who runs Pea Green Theatre with his wife, director Sue Miner.
He’s come up with a piece about the rebellion in a Swiss city-state and the figures on both sides, including a clown-hating captain-general, a nobleman with a famous ancestor and the nobleman’s assistant, a mute named Schpitl, who’s an early version of Harpo Marx.
“We like to blend the alien and the familiar in our plays,” continues Brownell, “and this obscure revolution is the alien part. But then there are the characters who are outcasts because they’re performers, and I remembered the incident when our prime minister took a shot at artists for being lazy bums who should get a job.
“Suddenly the 17th-century Swiss setting had a contemporary echo.”
The playwright emphasizes that this is a piece about street performers, not those who attempt high art.
“They’re the people who makes asses of themselves standing on mouldy wooden boxes, re-enacting comic bits that have worked time and again.”
War Of The Clowns is one of the Fringe’s site-specific shows, staged in the playground of the Miles Nadal JCC.
“This is our eighth Fringe show since 1989 and our third at the Miles Nadal,” says Brownell. “In a sense, we’re returning to the commedia format we used at Central Tech when we collaborated with Canadia dell’Arte; the work is physical, broad and almost cartoony. It’s not Chekhov, that’s for sure.
“Working outside lends an unpredictable energy to a performance. We’re playing rain or shine, and starting at 9:30 pm each night means we’re performing at a magical time, heading into dusk.”
Leora Morris, Hume Baugh and James Kirchner head to War.