Kingfield couple clucks and clowns through life
Consider the egg. Over time, it has symbolized birth, earth, fertility, the cosmos and resurrection, all while consisting of the makings of a hearty breakfast. It has been elaborately decorated with diamonds and gold, and with crayons, watercolors and wax. It has been the object of eggcrutiating puns and the subject of endlessly nerdy philosophical bickering about whether it or the chicken was first to arrive on the scene.
Consider, too, the clown. Even as the butt of jokes, the clown can be the transmitter of wisdom, though often inadvertently. The clown has been decorated through the ages with big red noses, floppy shoes, face paints and baggy pants (often filled with seltzer).
Consider now the fusion of the two: the clown and the egg as one. The clown transformed into a chicken, a clucking fool juggling the fragile symbol of life. The elegantly shaped cosmos in the bumbling hands of a feathered being baffled, as we all are, by even the simplest joys and tragedies of life.
Life is a stage
Kingfield’s Lloyd Brant and Rosie Cole bring this surreal vision to the stage, welding absurdist commentary to good, old-fashioned physical comedy. It’s a neo vaudeville fusion of the sweet slapstick of Laurel and Hardy with the existentialist dread and delight of “Waiting for Godot.” Children and adults alike understand Cole and Brant’s Jacques Le Coq-inspired physical comedy, but “The Wacky Chicken Show” also has subtexts about multinational corporations gobbling up consumers like Kentucky Fried Chicken, with gentle examinations of gender roles and dabblings in metaphysical dilemmas concerning existence and shattered shells.
“Essentially, the egg keeps breaking,” Cole says. “You’re trying to go on with your life and then WHOMP!”
Like much of what she says, the “WHOMP!” is delivered with unbridled glee. It’s clear she’s a woman who fully enjoys making loud, silly noises. She makes them even as her autobiographical description of the show begins to darken.
“But then you still have to go on with the show. So it’s really our life, experiencing this great joy and this great sorrow while being comedians.”
In their “Wacky Chicken Show,” the hen and the rooster played by Cole and Brant, respectively, become proud parents of an egg, only to see the egg crushed with a sneeze – a veiled reference to the infant daughter the couple lost more than a decade ago.
“Everything we do [on stage] is a reflection of our relationship,” Brant says. “Something horrible happens, and we’re having a fight, and all of a sudden we’re doing a show. Which is really our life.
“We’re married, soŠ” he says, pausing just long enough for Rosie to jump in and continue the thought. “We can have an argument about anythingŠ” she says with a laugh. And he leaps back in, “About whatever, I’ve got a hole in my socks. And then it will be time for the show, and there we are on stage and we’re just at each other, but we’re on stage and we have to make people laugh.”
He says Rosie is called upon to beat a drum at a point in their show and that when they’re fighting, the drumbeats can be antagonistic rather than supportive of what his rooster character is doing.
“It’s distracting from what I’m doing and messing me up. So when she’s really mad, she really bangs the drum,” he says.
“I really do bang that drum,” adds a giggling Rosie.
“The comedy is amplified because the antagonism is comical,” he says. “So I’ll look at her, and she’s really mad at me and really banging the drum, and the audience is just laughing and laughing even more. And then I completely fall in love with her.”
“And then he gives me that look and I just ARGHH!”
Shouts Lloyd, “‘Oh, God, he’s in love with me now! ARGHH!’”
“By the end of the show, we’re over it,” Rosie says, smiling.
“We’re over it,” echoes Lloyd.
As the lights come up on “The Wacky Chicken Show,” two oversized fowl make their way on stage, clucking and fussing. Throughout the piece, the two caw and cackle and crow at each other – dialogue is at a minimum. A couple of coherent words pop up here and there, but the show could be performed for an audience fluent only in Swahili, if the occasion arose.
“We don’t like to say the ‘M word,’” Lloyd says with a wan smile.
Mime. The silent art has been transformed into a joke; everyone claims to hate mimes, no one will admit to having ever been entertained by one. Yet the delicate art of mime echoes in clowning, dancing, theater and in “The Wacky Chicken Show,” too.
The two have performed their show for eight years at fringe festivals around the country, renaissance fairs, state fairs, themed festivals and more, on the road up to six or seven months a year. These days, however, they’ve reduced their travel to three or four months to enable their children, Liza, 18 and Gabriel, 10, to spend more time here attending school and putting down roots.
Cole and Brant met in 1978 while studying physical comedy at a school in Wisconsin and have been working together ever since to refine their art.
All that’s involved in living much of life out of their own rolling egg – a big, silver Airstream trailer – the travel, the five or six 20-minute shows a day, the rehearsals, those things are paying off.
The couple has worked its way into the performing arts center circuit, having added bit upon bit, layer upon layer, until they now have a full evening’s entertainment due to premier at this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival (see sidebar).
“I think it’s more respected,” he says of the performing arts circuit; a step above the fairs and festivals where they’ve honed their act.
Says Rosie, “But if you’re not a good performer, and you’re at any venue, if you stink, the audience is going to leave.”
Lloyd says that when he has the time and inclination to dream, he finds “The Wacky Chicken Show” on Broadway or perhaps in theaters in Europe.
“Performing arts centers would be the route to that.”
But he and Rosie aren’t focused on what might be waiting for them at the end of the rainbow. They’re busy with their lives in the present; both teach physical theater at the City of Lakes Waldorf School in Whittier, showing kids the fine arts of juggling, acrobatics and unicycling.
They’re also focused on the creation of their new show; one Lloyd is busy composing now.
“If the ‘Chicken Show’ is about survival of love through tragedy, and it is, then this next show will be about the survival of love through time,” he says. “So it will be our life all the way through from when we first meet, and all that stuff that happens when you first meet, through, you know, through the whole life-cycle to the very end.”
“We’re not there yet,” adds Rosie, smiling.
“I’m going to do this until I drop,” Lloyd says. “I think there’s something beautiful about an old clown.”
Michael Metzger can be reached at [email protected] and 436-4368.