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Of Cupids And Clowns

July 28, 2008

It's easy to fall in love with Summer Shapiro. The 24-year-old, San Francisco-based clown not only conspired to make the entire audience fall at her feet during a solo performance of her show In the Boudoir at The Climate Theater on Saturday night. She also managed to get two random male theatergoers to fight with plastic swords, nunchucks and pistols on stage to win her affections -- without doing much more than taking their hands, whispering a few quiet words to them and looking at them intently in the eyes. And all of this while rampaging around the tiny Climate stage in a frothy white hooped tutu and sparkly heels, throwing plates of cold spaghetti around and trying desperately to make an impression on -- and be impressed by -- the opposite sex.

In the Boudoir tells a deceptively simple story about a young female clown's love life. When a date fails to show up to a candlelit dinner for two at the clown's house, she compensates for her disappointment by engaging in elaborate romantic fantasies.

In once scene, she persuades a male theatergoer to join her on stage. Once on stage, she persuades the man to eat a piece of spaghetti with her as in the famous sequence from Disney's Lady and the Tramp. In another, she asks male audience members to blow up a yellow balloon for her, having failed at the task herself. The balloon gets stuck to her fingers while she tries to tie a knot in its end. Suddenly she drops her girlish facade and becomes Terminator-like monster-machine. Stomping about the stage making hydraulic noises like a malfunctioning Stepford Wife, she attempts to destroy the balloon under her heel. The image is at once hilarious, frightening and sexually bizarre. Veering erratically and erotically between the cliches of the helpless, ditzy female and the aggressive femme fatale, Shapiro both explodes stereotypes while making us recognize the universal desires for romantic passion within us all.

One of the most amazing things about Shapiro is her ability to connect with audience members. The whole 'volunteer' selection process and ensuing audience participation sequences are amazingly seamless and organic. Guys just seem to to submit to Shapiro's will without looking embarrassed or shy; I thought they were plants, but the Climate's artistic director assures me otherwise.

I've seen Shapiro perform once before. I was entranced enough by her ten-minute sketch last November to want to come back and see more. Half an hour of this masterful, sweetly-scathing performer simply isn't enough, however. I can't wait till she's ready to give the world a full-length 90 minute show.


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