Translated from the French by Alison Sinclair
Three elderly men arrive with suitcases in a windowless room. Three out-of-fashion clowns who bump into one another at an audition. They are old, out of fashion and desperately hoping they'll be chosen as it's clearly their last chance. They have answered an advertisement stating "Small Part for an Old Clown". When no one arrives to interview them they start performing their old routines. Who is the best actor?
The scene opens on an announcement of auditions for an Old Clown posted on a door. Filippo and Niccolo arrive first, and there is much tension between them, for there is only one opening to be filled. Over time, however, the two realize that they trained together and were once close as brothers. Their camaraderie only carries them so far, however, before competition for the job takes over again. Now they are joined by Peppino, whom they are delighted to recognize as their old teacher and mentor. But again, joyful reunion is spoiled by the tensions inherent in their desperate circumstances.
An approaching carnival sends the trio into reverie and each begins to perform his best tricks, the ones he is sure will land him the clown job. Then Peppino perfectly executes a cruel joke. In gleeful triumph, he begins to mock the pair with unrelenting laughter, setting unexpected forces in motion.
The action takes place in a waiting room, an anteroom without windows somewhere on the third, fourth or fifth floor, with two exits and two sets of stairs that go down to somewhere unseen.
On stage from the beginning, NICOLLO sits dozing on a chair near the imposing door centre stage, the door which is the axis of symmetry for the play.
NICOLLO could be dressed in clothes that appear hired; an old fashioned suitcase lies abandoned in the middle of the room. Finally, stuck to the door, an announcement giving details of forthcoming auditions to hire an "old clown".
The sound of footsteps climbing first left, then right, then again left. NICOLLO pricks up his ears, listens, gets excited, stands and begins arranging himself.
Enter FILIPPO. He wears a dark suit, possibly hired. He drags a heavy, old fashioned suitcase behind him which he leaves on the doorstep. Exhausted, he glides towards the first chair and throws himself down. He fans himself with his hat, panting.
NICOLLO sits, disappointed.
After a pause, FILIPPO stands, goes to the door and listens. He turns to stare at NICOLLO.
FILIPPO: Is somebody in there?
NICOLLO: (With his eyes closed) No.
NICOLLO loudly blows his nose. FILIPPO continues to stare at NICOLLO. After a while he decides to knock softly on the door. No answer. He stares again at NICOLLO who opens his eyes, irritated.
FILIPPO: (Quickly) That means you're first.
FILIPPO: Then that means I'm second.
Irritated, NICOLLO sits hunched on his chair. FILIPPO begins to investigate the room.
FILIIPO: (Sniffing) Have you been smoking in here?
FILIPPO: There's a lot of smoke in here. (Pause) Can you smell smoke?
NICOLLO: (After a pause) No.
FILIPPO: Well there is smoke. (Pause) There should be a window open.
Pause. FILIPPO, irritated, also sits.
FILIPPO: And they've left no word?
FILIPPO: That means that it isn't six o'clock yet.
NICOLLO: No, it's not.
FILIPPO: Let's hope they still come at six.
They steal a glance at one another.
FILIPPO: I take it you're here for the same business.
NICOLLO: You mean the advertisement?
Pause. Their glances become more apparent. NICOLLO blows his nose again loudly.
FILIPPO: I think the smoke should be let out. (Pause) Strange there are no windows. If they had windows the smoke would go straight out.
Pause. No answer. FILIPPO sighs and goes to fetch his suitcase. As he returns, their eyes meet. FILIPPO stops dead. He begins to tremble. NICOLLO stands. He also begins to tremble.
FILIPPO: (Overcome with emotion) Nicollo!
NICOLLO: (Overcome with emotion) Filippo!
FILIPPO: Nicollo, is it you?
NICOLLO: (Lost) Filippo! Filippo!
FILIPPO: (Opening his arms wide) I don't believe it! It can't be true!
NICOLLO: (Opening his arms wide) It's me! It's me!
FILIPPO: Christ! Nicollo! It can't be true!
NICOLLO: (With tears in his eyes) Me! Me!
The two embrace fiercely.
FILIPPO: (Gradually recovering himseo) Is it you? Really you?
NICOLLO: It is me! I swear it! Me!
FILIPPO: But how? But why?
NICOLLO: That's life!
FILIPPO: God, I'd never have recognised you. If you hadn't blown your nose I'd never have recognised you.
NICOLLO: Oh, get away with you! You'll make me cry.
FILIIPO: As soon as you blew your nose I felt a shiver. I felt you right in my soul. I smelt you. I said to myself that's him, the bastard! Nobody else snorts like that. (He hugs NICOLLO again and kisses him) You old devil! All your life you've been snorting like a trooper!
NICOLLO: (Wrenching himself away from the lewd embrace) Stop it! That's enough, you're ruining my face.
FILIPPO: (Wiping his mouth) What the hell is that? What the hell are you putting on your face?
FILIPPO: No wonder you've got so many wrinkles if you put that shit on your face!
NICOLLO: Where have I got wrinkles? Where do you see wrinkles?
FILIPPO: Oh, it doesn't matter. You could at least be happy to see me!
NICOLLO: What? Not happy? I'm happy.
FILIPPO: Say something then, you miserable old git, tell me how you are. Don't you feel crazy? I feel like I'm completely crazy! I never thought I'd see you again.
NICOLLO: Why wouldn't you see me again? Why shouldn't you see me again?
FILIPPO: Well, a while ago there was a rumour going round that you were dead. How did you manage that?
NICOLLO: Who told you I was dead? I've been working at the Fantazio. Why would I be dead?
FILIPPO: I heard you were in Perugia. In the asylum. Are they all raving bonkers there? Did they let you out?
NICOLLO: Well, that's the limit! I've never been to Perugia in my life! I've been working at the Fantazio. Have you never heard of the Fantazio?
FILIPPO: Good God, how thin you've got! How much do you weigh? You must've had your rations swiped in there, I reckon. Hey, sit down.
NICOLLO: (Agitated) I will not sit down!
FILIPPO: I never expected to find you in this state. Would you like some biscuits?
NICOLLO: I don't want any biscuits! Have you really never heard of the Fantazio?
FILIPPO: (Rummaging in his pockets) Would you like some nuts? You can have all the nuts I've got. I can see you haven't been looking after yourself. Just look at those awful ulcers on your tongue.
NICOLLO: You... well, I see a huge wart on one of your fat chins.
FILIPPO: I heard that they took off one of your testicles too. Is that right?
NICOLLO: Shameless bastard! You haven't changed a bit.
FILIPPO: Are you embarrassed about losing a testicle? Don't be embarrassed. Don't you ever feel embarrassed about anything in front of me! Never!
FILIPPO: Now when was it I saw Peppino? Last week I met Peppino and he told me about You... What he told me was that you were a wreck. And I didn't believe him and here you are, a wreck!
FILIPPO: He said: "He has the filthiest dirtiest skin!" and just look at how dirty your skin is... And you've got some disgusting scabs under your eyes...
NICOLLO: You can talk! You lump of old lard with those awful gums of yours... just get a whiff of yourself! Have you any idea how much you stink?
FILIPPO: Nicollo, old son, you need some hot food, understand? Something warm in your belly and a glass of red wine. Here's some money, Nicollo, my shout.
NICOLLO: Shove your money, you jealous sod! I've got money. I don't need your money. (He shakes a banknote triumphantly) Look!
FILIPPO: Where did you get that?
NICOLLO: I work at the Fantazio!
FILIPPO: (Still deaf to the name Fantazio) You've got yourself involved in some scam have you?
NICOLLO: I work, I'm on top form. I want for nothing... I get up at five o'clock every day.
FILIPPO: They'll catch up with you one day!
NICOLLO: I'm supple, I work out. Watch this! (Does two knee bends) I look after myself, I've still got what it takes... (He stands on his head) Eh?
FILIPPO: Stop that for God's sake! Do you want to keel over right here in front of me?
NICOLLO: (Flexing his arm) Feel it... see? It's all muscle, not an ounce of fat!
FILIPPO: That's bone not muscle.
NICOLLO: It's pure muscle.
FILIPPO: Look at your nails! Your nails'11 drop off. That's because you've no flesh on you.
NICOLLO: You're just jealous, you old git!
FILIPPO: Whimp! I'm surprised you managed to climb the stairs.
NICOLLO: Well, my little dumpling! Try this for size, if you're man enough.
FILIIPO: Look, you're ruining your suit, they won't let you borrow it again.
NICOLLO: (Landing on his feet, exhausted) The suit belongs to me.
FILIPPO: (Brushing the dust off NICOLLO) You want to pay for it twice?
NICOLLO: (Shielding himself with both hands) Mind your paws! The suit belongs to me.
FILIPPO: Come on, you little liar! Who do you think you're fooling?
Long Branch – The notice posted on the door says "Old Clown Wanted." That's a good enough hint to the purpose and identity of Niccolo (Ames Adamson), the tired older man fast asleep in one of only two straight-back chairs in a virtually barren windowless anteroom. His beaten up suitcase sits on the floor. Another hint as to what awaits him and us is the room itself. The two-toned walls are slightly tilted, as is a lone file cabinet giving the room a skewed sense of reality. Filippo (Al H. Mohrmann), another weary-looking man enters the room. He also has a suitcase.
Not only is it evident that he too has come to see about the job but that he also knows the other man. Filippo isn't terribly happy to find out that he isn't going to be the first to be interviewed, but he appears happy to be unexpectedly reunited with Niccolo, whom he hasn't seen since their circus days. Filippo says it was the way that Niccolo blows his nose that made him remember him. But quite soon Filippo, braced by the contents of his flask, begins to bait and taunt his old friend challenging the veracity of his tales and repeating rumors of Niccolo's death.
Insults are punctuated with embraces as the two reminisce about their lives and their travels. Filippo's insults prompt Niccolo to demonstrate his agility by doing a headstand against the wall. In the meantime, they wait for someone in authority to come. Someone does come, but it is Peppino (Ugo N. Toppo), yet another old clown with a suitcase. You can expect that long festering rivalries will be brought to the surface, and they are.
The New Jersey Repertory Company, known for its policy to produce new plays, is presenting the U.S. premiere of Romanian playwright Matei Visniec's (born in 1956) "Old Clown Wanted." Visniec's play is a either a tribute or a throwback to the "theater of the absurd," an expressionistic style of theater in which a world that is no longer rational is turned into a world of the absurd. Either way you look at it, it is clearly prompted by the kind of surreal theater that flourished during the 1950s and 1960s. The most famous play of the genre being Samuel Beckett's " Waiting for Godot." Since then many playwrights, including Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Edward Albee, and Sam Shepard have been influenced by this kind of theatrical literature that stressed poetic metaphors.
Written about ten years ago, "Old Clown Wanted" is a curious but compelling dark comedy with its roots buried in the tradition of ground-breaking existentialist playwrights Beckett, Jean Genet and Eugene Ionescu (to name a few). It resonates boldly with its kinship to "… Godot," especially in the thrust of its so-called plot in which three forlorn but plucky fellows find solace in each other while futilely waiting around for the answers to their questions.
Amidst the enjoyment of watching three accomplished actors careen through circular antics, redundant arguments, and friendly and hostile combat, there is the playwright's agenda to consider. Visniec, who is currently alive and well and living in Paris, was given political asylum in France in 1987. But since the fall of communism has become one of Romania's most performed playwrights. Niccolo, Filippo and Peppino are also perplexed by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Each is filled with anxiety and even still yet a hopeful wonder about what the future holds. A final image of (well, I won't spoil it for you) allows us to consider whether what has happened has been a fantasy, dream or nightmare.
Whether this production by the N.J. Rep will activate American interest in Visniec's more than thirty plays remains to be seen. "Old Clown Wanted" is neither dense nor obscure, but it is somewhat retro in its conceits. Although director Gregory A. Fortner's forte is primarily opera, his theater credits are growing. A few seasons ago, he assisted director Stephen Wadsworth in his production of Moliere's "Don Juan" at McCarter. Fortner provides a firm grip on this play that could otherwise get lost in abstractionism. He inspires some very clear and touching performances, particularly as the three relive their old clown act in a whirl of funny mime and, of course, growing menace.
As the defensive Niccolo, Adamson gets a lot of mileage out of an aggressively used handkerchief and his amusingly eccentric body language (most recently put to memorable use as Holofernes, in the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey's production of "Love's Labour's Lost"). Mohrmann is eerily effective as the enigmatic provocateur Filippo, while Toppo, as the dapper and condescending Peppino, their senior and mentor, gives the most poignant performance. He is unmercifully derided by his colleagues because he has found a modicum of success as, of all things, an actor.
Translated from the French by Britisher Alison Sinclair, this play might appear even better with an American translation that would soften the slightly arch text. Praise to Carrie Mossman's off-kilter set design, Merek Royce Press's multi-channel sound design, and Jill Nagle's stark lighting. "Old Clown Wanted" is not especially innovative, but it is intriguing. This is a play that I would recommend for all those interested in getting a perspective on international theater.
"Old Clown Wanted" (through August 15 th)
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J.
Leave it to the adventurous New Jersey Repertory Company to find, of all things, a Romanian playwright's absurdist comedy that was banned in his own country.
Now, in Long Branch, the troupe is presenting the American premiere of "Old Clown Wanted" -- which turns out to definitely be a play for our times.
For Matei Visniec's 1992 play deals not only with an individual's profound anxiety that comes from being unemployed, but also with the genuine fear that he's too old for the job market. He knows that, in a world that prizes youth, he has as much chance of getting hired as this year's Montreal Expos have of getting to and winning the World Series.
While there are more job opportunities in America than in Romania, only the rarest of theatergoers won't know someone who is sitting at home and suffering just as much as Niccolo, Filippo, and Peppino.
Niccolo is the first to see the placard "Old Clown Wanted." He's overjoyed at the prospect of finally getting an interview, let alone a job, in his chosen profession.
But soon Filippo arrives. The two were old friends, and, under different circumstances, they'd be thrilled to see each other. But now they're immediate rivals.
What's worse is that Peppino, their old mentor, shows up for the job as well. He was once their greatest friend, and suddenly, he's now their greatest enemy.
For 100 minutes, all of them try to one-up the other, all in hopes of proving that he's the best possible clown for the position. Meanwhile, no one's in any hurry to interview anyone.
Director Gregory A. Fortner, who saw the play in a Portuguese production, brought it to New Jersey Repertory. Could he have imagined when he persuaded the theater to do it that he'd find three actors who could make it work as splendidly as the trio he now has?
Ames Adamson, who's Niccolo, can get a laugh just from way he walks across the stage. But he does much more than that in this physically demanding show. In the second act, he has a protracted mime scene that he turns into one of the standout moments of the season. When it comes to body English, Adamson shows that he's a genuine valedictorian.
What makes this scene funnier, though, is that Adamson leavens it with frustration, for he expects the other two to guess what his mime means. They can't. Or are they pretending not to, so they can make him think that he's lost his edge, and thus ruin his confidence? That's always a possibility in this play.
Al H. Mohrmann is Filippo, ostensibly the evening's straight man who uses words more than his body. The actor is deliciously droll when he says to Niccolo, who's rolling all over the floor, "You're ruining your suit. They won't let you rent it again" -- not allowing for the possibility that Niccolo might in fact own it. This is the typical insult that Filippo makes all night long, and Mohrmann has a most amusing way of delivering these digs in a pseudo-innocent manner.
Ugo N. Toppo, the best of the three at seeming European, shows that Peppino is intent on remaining elegant at all costs. Still, he ensures that the clown can't keep his desperation from poking through every now and then.
While "Old Clown Wanted" definitely tells of a breakdown in our society, Long Branch audiences will be breaking up with laughter -- for at least the first act of the play. Then they'll be nodding in agreement and understanding when they see what happens to inherently nice people who are pushed to the brink.
Théâtre franco-roumain et la C-ie Les Macloma, Rond-Point Theater, Paris, France, 1994, directed by Alexandru Tocilescu
Théâtre de l'Utopie, La Rochelle, France, 1996, directed by Patrick Collet,
Company Théâtre du Caribou, Festival d'Avignon off, France 1996, directed by Charles Lee
National Theater Jassy, Romania, 1991, directed by Nicolae Scarlat
C-ie Face B, Paris, 2006, directed by Ludovic Pacot Grivel
Others productions in France, Romania, Moldavia, United States, Finland, Denemark, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina…
English (translation Alison Sinclair)
Swedish (translation Dan Shafran and Åke Nylinder)
Danish (translation Michael Moritzen)
Italian (translation Sabrina Faller)
Polish (translation Krzysztof Warlikowski)
Russian (translation Sviatoslav Sviatsky)
German (translation Ferdinand Leopold)
Finnish (translation Liisa Ryömä)
Portuguese (translation José Henrique Neto)
Brazilian Portuguese (translation Alexandre David)
Turkish (translation Ahmet Güngören)
Spanish (translation Marcelo Iglesias)
Arabic (Maroc) (translation Brahim Hanaï)
Bulgarian (translation Ognean Stamboliev)
Japanese (translation Shigehito Shiga)
Greek (translation Ersi Vassilikioti)
webdesign : © Andra Badulesco 2010