by Alix Cohen
Take your time passing through the exhibit of Dadaist objects and signage on the way in. An embodiment of the show, it’s droll, minimal, evocative; mood setting. Joel Jeske sits stock still, high on an elevated platform in the corner of the theater. His white make-up, dandy red suit, striped socks and bowler (Oana Boetz) are all the performer needs to appear “other.”
Though he came up through Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Clown School and B&B and Big Apple Circuses, Jeske is not of the red-nosed-giant-shoed ilk. The artist is a Lyric Clown, less broad, more thoughtful; when teamed, the straight man. In this intimate space, silent film expressivity, impeccable timing (think Bill Irwin) and considerable interaction with audience (be prepared) are given scope.
Director/Collaborator Mark Lonergan makes full use of the small space both visible and amusingly beyond walls. Pacing is pitch-perfect. Repetition never stretches further than raised eyebrow i.e. nothing is forced.
Several years ago, I asked Jeske what it takes to be a great clown. He replied, in part, “Noticing the details of life, being able to see incongruity…making a connection with the audience…timing and patience.”
“This is a series of pieces, created by me, performed by us, all about you—and me, but more about me,” he genially begins. I believe I counted 22 vignette titles projected on the walls. Well calibrated physical slapstick has as much sway as declarations made while standing behind an empty picture frame, or sight and sound gags involving “The Unpredictable Prop Closet.” Intermittent music is either eminently recognizable or so symbiotic, it feels familiar (Peter Buffano). Jeske himself sings a little ditty you’ll know.
One might be conscripted to pull a rope, toss a hat, follow a silly walk or play musical chairs. Nothing is meant to embarrass. Many in our audience have a sense of play. Jeske himself is a purposeful contradiction. On the one hand, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Beuys, and Samuel Clemmons weave through scenarios, the artist deftly upends expectations and speaks articulately as a creator; on the other, he offers himself up as bumbling, often balefully seeking approval. Make no mistake, he’s in charge.
The piece is engaging and buoyant, a parentheses of innocent respite.
Photos by Richard Termine
Parallel Exit presents the World Premiere of The Artist Will Be With You In A Moment
Created, Written and Performed by Joel Jeske
Directed by Mark Lonergan
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 W. 53rd Street
Through March 30, 2020