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      Big Top
    Tents' situations

    "Big Top" showcases more of Clay McLeod Chapman's inspired tales of the macabre — this time set in the circus and dangling the possibility of real-live blood.


    It's daunting, truly daunting, to be writing a review of one of Clay McLeod Chapman's Pumpkin Pie Shows (see also last year's "Rise Perverts Rise"). Not because his subject matter is often on the freaky side, or because I'm a little in love with his gentle off — stage persona, or even because I'm intimidated by his book deals (note the plural) with Hyperion. This task is daunting because so much has already been said about the young playwright, storyteller and novelist, and said extremely well, that all the cool descriptive words have been taken. "Clay McLeod Chapman cuts himself another slice of southern fried gothic" (Village Voice) — doesn't get much better than that. I can't even use "rakish raconteur" (also the Village Voice), though I find Clay far from rakish. So I'll just tell you what I saw in the latest of Clay's productions, and hope you'll choose to enjoy the Pumpkin Pie experience for yourself.

    Company: Pumpkin Pie Show.
    Written by: Clay McLeod Chapman.
    Cast: Clay McLeod Chapman, Hanna Cheek, Max Moore, and the Great Throwdini & Niabi.
    Music by: One Ring Zero (Joshua Camp and Michael Hearst).

    Related links: Official site | The Great Throwdini | One Ring Zero
    The Red Room
    85 East 4th St. near 2nd Ave.
    May 24 - June 29, 2002

    Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp make up the group One Ring Zero, which creates the delightful and original musical underscoring by playing the familiar keyboard and drums, but sometimes by playing this funky accordionlike thing. You don't pump it like the accordion, you blow into this tube that sticks out of the top while fingering the keys. I'm told it's a theremin and that you don't see them around much anymore. The melodies enhance the circus atmosphere without interfering with the storytelling, though One Ring Zero also gets to do a few musical numbers devoid of actors talking on top of them.

    The first monologue is delivered by Clay himself, portraying the poor guy who sits on the dunking seat at your local carnival. In spite of his being such an asshole (please see the show so you know how clever of me that was), he is a sympathetic, maybe even pathetic, character who is desperate to get people to spend their money, as well as desperate to prove his self-worth.

      Big Top
    The newest topping on the Pumpkin Pie is the Great Throwdini and his wife Niabi. I used to pride myself on being able to watch anything without flinching, but the poor woman who sat next to me has scratches on her leg made by my fingernails. What if the knife slips? What if he gets dizzy? What if she accidentally moves in the wrong direction? As it was, one of the evil-looking knives that was intended to lodge itself in the wood directly behind Niabi and directly above her, umm, female parts, didn't quite lodge, and as it bounced out of the backboard it also took a nick out of her thigh. The audience gasped, but Niabi took it in stride. As an actor, her skill doesn't come close to that of the other three monologists, but nobody can beat her for bravery.

    If Hanna Cheek wasn't enticing enough in her first number as the woman who twists and turns high above the audience secured only by her jaw, she returns later in the evening as the mellifluously voiced chanteuse who is half man, half woman. If you're looking for a menage a trois, she says, "You and me makes three." Count me in!

    Finally we listen to a conversation between a lion tamer (Max Moore) and his tamee. It's a familiar love story, really (you need me — you'll be sorry if you try to get rid of me!), only spectacular because the tamer speaks it from inside the animal's belly. Such is Chapman's excellent craftsmanship at getting us to suspend our disbelief in just about anything.

    Overall, "Big Top" is much less grotesque than Chapman's earlier work, but not short on fun or danger. His character voices, though you can still hear Clay in all of them, are starting to catch up to his juicy stories. "The devil never made the fire feel so good," says the boy who ran away from home to join the circus. Go feel good.

    JUNE 5, 2002

    Reader comments on Big Top:

  • Review   from The Great Throwdini, Jun 6, 2002
  • Re: Review The Great Throwdini   from Joe Darrah, Mar 14, 2003

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