Over the years there have been colorful, slightly vague, and very salacious reports about what goes on at The Box, a nightclub on the Lower East Side. People who tell these tales tend to blush and laugh guiltily, and the stories usually involve some bold burlesque performer doing something outrageous with a hard-boiled egg or a live chicken or what have you, and who was there to see it all: “And Parker Posey had her mouth agape, and even Debbie Harry looked shocked!” These things tend to happen at 4am. But right now, at 7:30pm when the doors open, what’s happening at The Box is a thing called Clown Bar, a kind of floor show written by Adam Szymkowicz with music and lyrics by Adam Overett, direction by Andrew Neisler, and many people helping out with wigs and costumes and fight choreography and props, which include clown noses for everyone. The show itself starts around 8:30, so there’s plenty of time to throw back a few drinks if your taste runs to frosty libations with fifteen-dollar price tags.
While you wait, two clowns are in charge of the entertainment, Dusty (Salty Brine) and Petunia (Jessica Frey). Dusty is a rabble- rouser who seems to have studied at the Paul Lynde school of comic timing, while Petunia is a sex-crazed nymph. The jokes start out as deliberately corny old vaudeville groaners, but there’s some genuine wit and invention in the songs they sing, and some very funny throwaway lines from Dusty such as, “Nipples! Without them, tits would be pointless!” Clown Bar has a traditional burlesque tone, just dirty enough but never moving into outright sexual nastiness.
When the show starts, it’s immediately clear that the plot of Clown Bar is strictly nominal and not to be considered very seriously. Happy (Shane Zeigler), a studly former clown who has turned to police work, comes back to the clown bar to investigate the murder of his little brother Timmy (Dan Tracy), a drug addict who never could get his spit takes to be funny enough to fit in with the other clowns. While he looks for clues, Happy encounters old flame Blinky (Claire Rothrock), a hard-bitten sexual dynamo who knows just how to rotate a pair of pasties and take off an arm-length glove. Clown Bar is staged so that the audience is right in the thick of the action, which means that the very game performers are often talking and interacting with audience members. Inevitably, you begin to look at certain audience members just as much as you look at the players, and that’s part of the fun. Certainly there is no more cheerfully committed crew of actors in town right now than the cast of Clown Bar, and though Szymkowicz might have given them just a little bit more to work with, it would be churlish to deny the simple pleasures of their vigorous and often sexy hard work.