Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Wednesday, July 20 at 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 23 at 2:15 p.m.
They say: “Back by popular DADA-demand! Three Clowns, two Visionaries, and a Musician walk into a bar. THIS IS NOT A JOKE! It is the surreal Cabaret Revoltaire. The guests are visionaries. Beware of Forgeries! Text is from ACTUAL Manifestos. DADA! HAHA!”
Chris’s Take: When Happenstance Theater first brought Manifesto! to Fringe in 2008, we liked it. A lot.
Plenty’s changed since then, but fortunately this whimsically odd crash course on Dada and Futurism stayed the same. It’s still “a multi- and extra-sensory extravaganza” that “bucks all shades of intellectualism.” These “merry pranksters” still “get it.”
(Is it Dada to quote an old review that ran on this very blog? “Haha!” says this lazy critic.)
Led by Happenstance’s husband-and-wife artistic co-directors Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell, Manifesto! has sidesplitting laughs not normally associated with century-old cultural philosophies. But thanks to a few slaps of clown make-up, the hammiest pratfalls this side of the Three Stooges, and some absurdly genius takes on the surreal, Mandell and Jaster’s ensemble comedy is a gut-busting kind of funny—-all the more impressive considering the dialogue in Manifesto! is largely pulled from actual manifestos.
Looking like a more animated, Master Cleansed Uncle Fester, Jaster plays the middleman of Cabaret ReVoltaire with delightful flourishes and facial tics; his face reflects horror, pride, and anger to equal comedic effect. (And if that doesn’t do it for you, his bald dome doubles as a crystal ball.) Mandell plays the “new girl” hired to sweep the floors. She’s a foil of sorts to Jaster, tittering and goofing like a schoolgirl throughout the performance—-even when she’s stripped down to her knickers and given “Futurist clothes.” When the Cabaret’s prim hostess (Gwen Grastorf) steps onto the stage, the weird fun kicks into high gear.
I don’t think I can emphasize this enough: Manifesto! is damn funny stuff. The brilliance behind the comedy, though, is nothing to scoff at—-the performance works because of the ridiculous, ill-defined nature of the subject, not in spite of it. Manifesto! weaves Dadaism and Communism against Futurism and Capitalism without explanation, grabbing the audience with no intention of letting go.
Not literally, of course—-until the cast does jump off stage, snag audience members, and force them into a Conga line. So on second thought, quite literally. (Da da da da da … DA!)
The cocktail of oddball humor, violence, and audience coercion would normally make Manifesto! one of the fringiest Fringe shows to ever Fringe…if it weren’t held in the air-conditioned Studio Theatre. But Fringiness aside, there’s a lesson to be learned amidst the comedy’s slow-mo fights, gaudy proclamations of cultural superiority, and sizzling funny tango number—-sometimes, it’s all we can do to just laugh.
See it if: You’ve been itching for some existential slapstick humor.
Skip it if: You still think this is a pipe.