The Actors Gang, founded in 1981 by Tim Robbins and a group of LA actors, and whose members include Jack Black and John Cusack, has become a staple in the Los Angeles theater scene. While the company has had its ups and downs, it is now on firm footing, presenting classic works in commedia dell'arte style while developing new plays that address current issues using satire and raucous stagecraft. Their latest offering is Atomic Holiday Free Fall, a marvelous mélange of music, variety and clowning created by Stefan Haves, whose work in comedy and clowning ranges from collaboration with David Shiner and Bill Irwin on Fool Moon to designing comedy acts for Cirque du Soleil.
In this low-budget, stripped-down setting, Haves captures the essential magic of commedia dell'arte and offers a more intimate, entertaining, and transcendent experience than the mega-budget Cirque can provide. Haves worked as a juggler and street clown in Paris, and his experience in the streets gave him formidable insight into audiences and physical comedy. Using live and recorded music as a driving force, Haves takes the thinnest of plots -- aliens descending on Las Vegas -- to launch a series of skits that combine broad comedy with surrealistic dialogue and images, all designed for the maximum in humor and entertainment value. He throws in very funny juggler Scot Nery, a hilarious standup bit by Kasey Wilson, and a breathtaking aerial display by Eric Newton. All of this is enhanced by fast-paced musical numbers directed by Philip Giffin and brilliantly choreographed by Lindsley Allen.
To call this a captivating evening is an understatement. The result is a rewarding, thought-provoking experience that draws you into Haves' theatrical wonderland. It sets one thinking about all the possibilities for theater that go largely untapped in our emphasis on naturalism and truth. Often truth is elusive and outsize, or grotesque and shadowy, as Haves' whirlwind circus parade demonstrates. Haves has made a singular and important contribution to the theatrical landscape; his latest effort is not to be missed.
A version of this review appeared in Back Stage.