THE CLOWN, Rhinoceros Theater Festival, at the Lunar Cabaret, and CUT IT OUT!, Caravan/Caravan, Rhinoceros Theater Festival, at the Lunar Cabaret. It was just chance that two of the entries in this year's Rhino Fest (which closes this weekend) are adaptations of works by Heinrich Bšll, but they play off each other nicely.
Neither is particularly faithful. Though Douglas Grew and Frank Melcori call their hour-long version of Bšll's thick novel The Clown "a distillation...not a substitute," even that's an overstatement: Bšll's dry wit and clear-eyed descriptions of postwar life hardly appear in the piece except for a few lines of narration. Essentially this is an expertly performed clown act, though Grew and Melcori do preserve the tone of Bšll's anomic prose and something of his story, about an alcoholic West German clown whose girlfriend dumped him. Fortunately, Melcori's sad, resigned voice and Grew's sorrowful clown makeup are well suited to Bšll's words. (Over the course of the piece, Melcori and Grew both play the protagonist.)
Leslie Buxbaum's adaptation of Bšll's short story "Murke's Collected Silences" also employs lots of clown work, though with less success: led by the Chaplin-esque Adrian Danzig, the noisy clowning here is at odds with Bšll's quiet, bitter comedy. The story concerns a maladjusted radio producer, Murke, who copes with his job at the government-run station by indulging in eccentric games: aimlessly riding the elevators, passively rebelling against the station's policies, driving an unbearable pedant to the brink, and, oddest of all, collecting snippets of silence from radio interviews. Bits and pieces of the story survive in Buxbaum's adaptation--most notably the slow, painful, utterly hilarious torture of Professor Bur-Malottke (adeptly played by David Engel), who's decided he must re-edit his radio lectures of the past several decades, substituting for all references to God the spineless phrase "that higher being whom we revere."
The story's structure and overall flow are lost, however, in this messy, spasmodic adaptation, with the result that some of the biggest payoffs in the original--as when Bur-Malottke's voice is used to undermine a pompous existential radio play--fail to produce even a titter. --Jack Helbig