Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Short and Suite: Leaving The Ring

There Should Be More Shows Matthew Belopavlovich’s

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Matthew Belopavlovich’s Leaving The Ring is being performed early on in the week during some of the coldest days of the year. It seems unlikely that the show in its second night will draw huge crowds—a lamentable situation which solidly marks it as one of those entertaining little shows not many people will see—a fun fraction of an evening in the shadows of a theatre curtain between bigger moments and bigger shows.

It’s the story of a nameless clown who comes in to a theatre to wait out a rainstorm. As he realizes that he has come to rest in front of an audience, he decides to perform for them. As a whole, the show is a short suite of simple clown comedy and magic bits mixed-up with tales of the character’s life in the circus and the poetry of Robert Lax.

Onstage for less than an hour, the show is a very short suite of circus clown-related material. None of it is terribly complicated, but it’s all delivered with a remarkable amount of charm and charisma on the part of Belopavlovich.

After a couple of sweetly sentimental songs, the nameless clown enters the stage with a whimsically reluctant suitcase. The physical comedy here is simple, universal and some of the best material in the show. The suitcase prop itself looks well-traveled and contains exactly the sorts of mementos that one might expect an old-timey circus clown to travel around with. Flowers. Photographs decks of cards and such.

Once the show gets going Belopavlovich makes his connection with the audience, delivering the narrative of a down on his luck clown who has been kicked out of the circus in a characteristically slapstick acciedent involving the circus cook. The pose is actually quite interesting and may not have the cunning simplicity of the Robert Lax poetry Belopavlovich performs throughout the show, but it has a conversational charm about it. The conversational material occasionally treads into the sublmie and existential end of human consciousness. He never lingers there long enough for the show to seem to ever seem unduly heavy. There's just enough of the more philosophical end o things to let you know that there's a great deal of thought put into the simplicity of the rest of the show. It's a very well-balanced piece.

As breezy as the show is, it’s easy to feel like it’s an audition for a much larger show. It’s not. It’s a very tightly packed self-contained little suite of performance pieces that feels very much like a miniature clown-sized version of an entire circus. The beauty in this lies in its efficiency—inside a half an hour, you’ve seen competently performed magic, sleight of hand, comedy, spoken word and a few other very basic things. It's all executed very competently. And though it does leave one wanting more, it’s hardly disappointing. With Leaving the Ring, Belopavlovich has created a brilliantly minimalist theatrical experience that is over and done with in less than an hour. Sitting in the first row cleared for attendance, I was showered with popcorn in a bit of physical comedy. I slowly picked at it, sipping on a beer as I watched Belopavlovich’s slow and simple comedy. I came to appreciate the simple pleasure of a well-executed three-ball cascade—an MGD in one hand, a handful of popcorn in the other. 

Leaving The Ring’s final performance of two runs tonight at 7:30 pm at the Alchemist Theatre.

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