A young-audience offshoot of the Troubadour Theater Company, the Funky Punks seem dedicated to kiboshing the notion that a clown’s function is to scare children. At the hour of comic tumbling, dance, acrobatics and puppetry I attended, the only child who cried was merely afraid of being dragged onstage. In fact, except for one lucky adult, the audience participation at a Funky Punks show is limited to a lot of screaming and jumping up and down in your seat because it’s such a good time. And really, if you can get 700 little kids in a room and make only one cry, I don’t care what your resume says: you’re also a magician.
The magic is directed by Matt Morgan who, though he did not pull rabbits from hats, did make my frown disappear after a long miserable drive to La Mirada. (The next two Funky Punks shows are more accessible to Los Angeles-based civilization, in MacArthur Park and Pasadena.) Mr. Morgan, possibly the hardest working clown in America, flew down from a show in Reno to perform with the Funkies before flying back up; he also performs in Troubadour shows and is the man behind various bizarro not-for-children cabaret experiences including Shotspeare, the Ding Bat Show, and his notoriously uncomfortable fake brother-sister act with Heidi Brucker, the Jack and Diane Show. Some of his Funky Punks colleagues, including his fellow producers (Troubadour veterans Corey Womack, Beth Kennedy, Matt Walker, and Mike Sulprizio) and many of the performers, also take part in his other ventures; and for adults, I have no higher recommendation for an out-of-the-ordinary good time than any show with which Matt Morgan is associated.
The same goes for his kids’ stuff, which entertains grown-ups at least as much as their little charges. Essentially eight clowns a-clowning, the Funky Punks incarnation I witnessed is pretty straightforward pure entertainment. Some of the routines are as old as old (Our hands are stuck together! I keep kicking my hat when I try to pick it up!) and some feel spontaneous, but all are delightful. When Jon Monastero (maybe 5′ 10”) and Stephen Simon (maybe nine foot) fight over whose hat is whose, the classic Mutt & Jeff pairing feels familiar but fresh because their bodies and souls are invested in the activity. Guilford Adams falls off a ladder better than I can climb one. Brandon Breault screams like a little girl but pouts just like a big girl. The beautiful Caroline Gross, aerialist supreme, elevates the proceedings – sorry – by dancing up high above the stage on a pair of silks, with no safety net but her own strength, grace, and skill. And when the lithe and lovely Ms. Brucker decides to imitate her and only makes it halfway, it’s no mere low-comedy act; it’s a teachable moment. As Mr. Morgan exclaimed after a juggling routine fell short of perfection (not all clowns are created equal), “See, it’s okay to be bad at stuff.” The kids seemed to like hearing that. After the briefest of comic pauses, he followed up with an aside that elicited appreciative laughter from parents: “This show has lessons.”
Let us table the argument about whether “to strive for excellence” might be a better lesson for developing personalities, because at this show kids get that one, too, in the objects of these hardworking performers. This show, and any show of its kind, would suck if it truly embraced mediocrity. Like certain versions of Cirque du Soleil I could mention or include a link to bad reviews of. (Insert link here). Oops.
But for all the merits of its many troupers and specialized routines, this show belongs to two clowns: the stratospherically talented Mr. Morgan, and Tina Groff, whose outrageous competence belies the idea that it’s okay to be bad at stuff even when she fails at a particular stunt. Mr. Morgan’s and Ms. Groff’s clown personas appear to be high-energy extensions of their own natures, and it is restful to the soul to watch the comfort in which Ms. Groff, in particular, enjoys her time behind a plastic nose-cap. They both have the gift of pulling an audience in, of earning trust with an eyebrow, and they perform much of the hour-plus program as co-hosts; the synchronicity of their generalship is a testament to years spent working together, and to the ten thousand hours of blood and sweat that produce skills of this sort.
Alright. I assume that most parents looking for a kids’ show will have stopped reading by now, slaked by my flood of praise; I hope so. Because what I have to say now may not encourage people to bring their children, although for some this collateral benefit might just be the deciding factor on whether to accompany them:
Girl clowns are hot.
I had no idea.
It’s not like they’re trying to be sexy. They just… are. To me. Certainly it didn’t seem that any of the kids thought so. About halfway through the show, I thought I had discovered a latent fetish uncloseted by a mid-life first exposure to bouncy women in greasepaint and false noses; then I realized that this description fits many in Los Angeles whom I do not in the least desire. And at that moment my girlfriend interrupted my reverie with,
“Can we bring Matt Morgan home?”
I made a swift counter proposal, she upped the count, and by the time we agreed to invite the entire cast and production team over for naked scrabble, we’d established that clowns are not an attraction preference exclusively mine. So maybe it’s just us. You decide for yourself. Even if we’re freaks for finding something extra-special to enjoy (so far unrequitedly; Mr. Morgan will not return my calls), it’s still a great show for everybody who likes a great show.
photos by Cameron McIntyre
The Funky Punks
Troubadour Theater Company in La Mirada (Los Angeles Theater)
played July 22, 2012
also plays Sunday, August 12 at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park
and Wednesday, August 15 at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena
for more info, visit http://www.troubie.com/public/funky_punks.html