by Lynn on November 21, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Anosh Irani

Directed by Richard Rose

Costume by Kathleen Johnston

Lighting by Jason Hand

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Cast: Anand Rajaram

The Story. Felix is in prison. He gives his story about who he is; how he was born into the circus; how his parents were trapeze artists and what finally lead him to this place. Gripping.

 The Production. Master performer Anand Rajaram makes you work harder. If you see a show entitled Buffoon you look up the many and various definitions of the word. It could be a person whose behaviour and antics are silly and make us laugh. It could be a clown in a circus. It could be a person so emotionally needy they have to show off to get attention. It could be a person laughing on the outside and emotionally tortured on the inside.  When you see Rajaram play Felix in Buffoon you realize all these definitions are apt and don’t even come close to explain what is going on in this deeply layered, unsettling character.

The stage is bare except for a metal chair centre stage. (Strangely there is no set design credit.)  There is a florescent light high up on the back wall. There is a doorway stage right.

Felix (Anand Rajaram) enters through the door. His face is covered in white as per clown make-up. He says its chalk. Costume designer Kathleen Johnston has dressed him in a drab prison jump suit. Felix is awkward, perhaps shy, perhaps fearful. Anand Rajaram as Felix gets our attention immediately. He has the facial make-up of a clown but this is no laughing matter (regardless of the initial titters from a few in the audience. They get the message soon enough).

He was born in the circus. His parents were trapeze artists.  His mother was The Flying Olga, an imperious, glamourous, cigarette-smoking mystery. His father Frank was her partner, catching her as they did their routine high above the audience. Felix was an inconvenience to his mother. She never loved him as a mother should or would. His father was not much better but Felix loved him. ‘Smile the ticket taker brought him up in a sense, gave him books to read. “Moby Dick” was the first one.

Felix observed his parents’ arguments on the act, his mother’s infidelity with another trapeze artist, his father’s devastating capitulation and how Felix found love and his own disappointment.

Rajaram plays each character and they are all clearly, economically defined in Rajaram’s masterful performance. As Olga, Rajaram sits sideways in the chair, his hand delicately holding a cigarette that is sucked on as if it’s a breath of life. As his father Frank, Rajaram stands tall arms and fists clenched to bulging muscle. Felix and his love Aja are equally beautifully defined: she with a flick of her (imaginary) hair, he with wide-eyed wonder that she loves him. They go back and forth in conversation that is always clear. Rajaram goes from character to character with a turn of his body, a different position in the chair, a flick of the hand. Masterful.

The story fluctuates from Felix’s past to his present in prison. When we are back in prison, Jason Hand’s lighting changes and the florescent light illuminates. When we are in the past, the florescent light is off and the lights illuminating his past come on. The storytelling is both funny and heartbreaking.

Richard Rose directs this with the same clarity and economy as Rajaram performs it. Anosh Irani has written such a quietly dense, complex story of yearning, love-denied and love given, a story of a soul looking for acceptance. The character of Felix slowly, carefully reveals himself through his funny observations. Richard Rose in his direction and Anand Rajaram in his nuanced performance never rush a scene. Felix and his story evolve delicately and we are gripped every step of the way.

Deep in the play Anosh Irani takes a sharp turn in the story that catches us up short, but he’s so gifted a storyteller we hold on. And we find out who Felix is really telling the story to. Stunning. It’s a beautifully written story of an isolated soul and his need to belong and be loved and what happens when both are denied, and that even then, when he least expects it, there is hope.

Comment. Anosh Irani is a wonderful playwright as seen in his plays Bombay Black  and Men in White. Add Buffoon to this list. And you won’t find a finer, funnier more soulful buffoon than Anand Rajaram. He gives a master class in performance.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 20, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 15, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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