By Jessica Ruano
60 minutes | Clown, Physical | G
Even though I’d read the show description for Cardinal in advance, I had totally forgotten this clown show was about Alzheimer’s. As soon as I remembered that important detail five or ten minutes into the show, everything made a lot more sense. But before that, I found myself trying to piece together the purpose of the characters’ actions, wondering why on earth they were moving all these chairs around, seemingly without reason, and why one character appeared to be at first invisible to the other, and what it all meant.
Even for someone well-versed in clown performance conventions, it can still take a while to move past our narrative-based understanding of theatre to fully relax into the realm of the abstract.
So for those reasons, it took me some time to warm up to this show, which is, in fact, very clever. On a cardinal-red set, a clown (Mitchel Rose, École Jacque Lecoq) in cardinal-red clothing hangs up his cardinal-red socks, and arranges his cardinal-red chairs. Everything is just as it should be until a mischievous clown in white (Madeleine Hall, École Philippe Gaulier) sneakily removes the red chairs and replaces them with white ones. And that’s just the beginning.
The significance, of course, is that Alzheimer’s creeps up slowly on its victims, replacing memories with blankness and replacing knowledge with blankness and making ordinary, everyday tasks that much more challenging until eventually you are closed off from the world as you knew it. The anxiety-inducing conclusion to this (entirely wordless) piece is truly heartbreaking.
While Rose and Hall share excellent chemistry onstage, I did feel this piece could use a bit of editing, as some of the repetition felt superfluous, and the opening segment – though arguably included to establish character – did not entice. Where the piece gets truly exciting is in the second half: witnessing with bated breath the unjust, inevitable victory of one entity over the other, as though you were watching a panicked Doctor Faustus in his last moments before descending into Hell while Mephistopheles laughs.
Cardinal, Academic Hall, 133 Séraphin-Marion