More clowns gone wild via Carol Triffle

Thanks to Carol Triffle, this is an unplanned Part Two of the previous post on Monica Drake’s recently published nove Clown Girl and Triffle’s play at Imago The Dinner. To make utter and complete sense of it, insofar as that’s actually possible, you’re going to have to take a peek at the original post, below, which is fairly long. If you’re like me, though, you’ll just charge on through THIS post, figuring things out on the fly, and then decide whether or not you want to spend yet MORE time on clowns later! But really, that’s false advertising, because the posts aren’t about clowns themselves, they are more about the creation of clowns.

After I had written “Clowns are wild,” I sent the link to Ms. Triffle, just so she’d be up-to-date on the slanders and misapprehensions about her play that I’d committed to digital eternity. She was kind enough to respond, and here’s part of what she said in two pieces:

It’s funny that you wrote about the book Clown Girl because Chuck Palahniuk wrote the introduction to that book and his book Choke got me thinking of doing a show about the etiquette of dining. I haven’t read Clown Girl but I will.

So, for starters, a coincidence chain, with Chuck Palahniuk in the middle: Choke to The Dinner, Palahniuk to Clown Girl, (and then my connection of Clown Girl to The Dinner). This is common enough in Portland, I suppose, this overlapping, and part of the reason for an emergence of a certain “Portland style” or “approach” or maybe “embrace” — that I would venture to say that involves a mix of risk-taking, craft, humility (with self-confidence), consciousness of the social (both in the form of the audience AND of the work’s context), and, well, we might go on, but this is the subject for a Ph.D. thesis perhaps, not a parenthetical paragraph in a post about other things.
Triffle continues:

Like the line Dolores says in The Dinner “I fall down and then I get right back up again” that is my description of the human condition. The funny part is that she does it over and over again with not much success. Lecoq once told me to stop walking into walls and do what comes naturally. I did think of Lecoq while writing and directing this play. [A] Lecoq clown has a risky rawness that exposes our inner naivety and desires. Lecoq showed me that movement and timing can sometimes say as much as words.

Falling down and getting back up, yes, and from a certain perspective, it can be hilarious. Or “funny” as in “interesting.”

I worry about Dolores (the central character in the play), though, because I want her to escape the “smart” trap. Is this smart? Am I smart? Am I being smart right now? How about now? Dolores, I want to say, you are smart, let’s move on. That’s what I’d say whether I thought she was smart or not, because frankly the judgment doesn’t matter. On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect her to believe me, any more than she believes her brother Harvey, who is NOT smart in the way Dolores wants to be smart. Dolores just keeps walking into that wall and in doing so, she enacts her inner clown — a clown will do something repeatedly, way past your comfort zone, into your boredom zone, and then out the other side, into absurdity.

Stop walking into walls! I would love to know the exact context of Lecoq’s suggestion to Triffle, but I imagine that it’s a simple pragmatic observation: You can contend with your limits or you can create. It’s hard to do both at the same time (not that a little contention doesn’t help creation). This is advice for an artist, but it’s also advice for anyone. Which is why I’m so adamant about the “creativity piece” — in education, in government policy, in corporations. When I solve the problems that block my creativity, I put myself in a position to solve lots of other problems, too. The arts are good place to practice that in the same way that sports are a good place to practice creative teamwork. This is a John Dewey observation, for those who’ve tracked Art Scatter’s Dewey obsession.

I also like “risky rawness.” Imago and Carol Triffle aren’t “safe.” The Dinner isn’t a safe play: It’s feelings are bare — neediness, domination and control, desire, anxiety. The narrative arc, such as it is, doesn’t promise the reconciliation of sorts that occurs at the end. And we might start feeling uncomfortable about laughing at “these” people, about feeling superior to them, about feeling as though we are in a position to offer advice (as I wanted to offer advice to Dolores). They aren’t “people,” though; they are constructs, types, “clowns,” and once you start feeling sorry or superior to them, frankly, they’ve got you — the first laugh and you’re off to the funhouse, a house of mirrors actually, the absurd zone.

At some point, we’ll talk more about the man in the middle here, Chuck Palahniuk, but to be honest, I’m nowhere near having that worked out for myself.

Some links:

Imago: Time is running out on your chance to see The Dinner.
Hawthorne Books: The publisher of Clown Girl.
Marty Hughley’s review of The Dinner in The Oregonian.