Clowning is an exacting art.
Or so it would seem judging from the opening-night performance of "Fools' Fortunes II," a showcase of clowns, actors, illusionists and others whose disciplines can be grouped under the umbrella term "movement theater."
Clowns, for the purposes of this review, refer to artists working in the European tradition, not birthday-party clowns. So you'll see no balloon animals or squirting lapel flowers. You will see theatre performers striving to create art, even if some of them are a little under-rehearsed.
The inherent weirdness of an agreeably ridiculous performance by an ensemble called Boom! An International Lost and Found Family Marching Band got my vote for highlight of the evening on opening night.
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Led my Stephanie Roberts, who teaches physical theater at UMKC, the group proves, among other things, that it's possible to perform Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" in a loose -- very loose -- arrangement incorporating ukulele, bass drum, trombone, clarinet and melodica. Roberts, adopting the persona of a Germanic disciplinarian, is a stone-faced exclamation point in her white plastic boots and red bodysuit/hot pants outfit as she barks instructions to her musicians.
Jason Reynolds, performing as a clown in love named Chauncey, demonstrates nuance and impressive physical performing skills in a very funny bit called "All By Myself."
Beth Byrd, who produced the show, performs several numbers in which she demonstrates real acting ability. The crowd favorite on opening night was "What's in the Box?" performed by Byrd and a talented Boston terrier named Brutus.
Brutus, who happens to be the pride and joy of local actor Heidi Stubblefield, also makes a big impression in a routine with juggler Jason Smith, in which Brutus eventually captures one of the juggling balls and runs off stage with it clamped between his jaws.
Stubblefield presents a 10-minute excerpt from "The Coppellia Project," which she conceived and directed and will stage in its entirety for the KC Fringe Festival this summer. Veteran actor Ric Averill plays the grizzled old doll-maker opposite Kalen Compernolle as the doll who comes to life. The piece is rough around the edges but charming.
Indeed, it's fair to view "Fools' Fortune II" as a preview, at least in terms of spirit, of the Fringe Festival in July. If so, the festival should be a lively affair.
"Fools' Fortune II" will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday May 17 and 2 p.m. Sunday May 18 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre. Tickets: $12. 816-753-0517.