Clay' breaks mold at Lookingglass
by Columbia Chronicle
The lights go down and a spotlight on a creepy hand moving in circular motion from just behind the curtain could easily make you think youâ€™ve just been dragged into a circus. Yet curiosity might just be enough of a reason to not giggle at whatâ€™s happening on stage.
â€śClayâ€ť is the story of Clifford, a boy faced with a series of family traumas who is forced to confront his troubles. After running away from his home, he meets Sir John, a man who becomes his guide and mentor of spoken word, telling him that â€ś[rhymes] only come out truthful if [they] come from a truthful place.â€ť With him, Clifford learns what it takes to face his problems and fears head-on.
The show is what solo performance should beâ€”an exploration of themes disovered through a singular person. In this case, itâ€™s one person taking on numerous personas and wearing each like an old hat: comfortably worn in and still a perfect fit. Watching Sax transform from character to character all in physical motion, facial expression and tone of voice, rather than costumes and props, works because he fully commits to every individual he becomes.
The one-man hip-hop performance was created by Matt Sax and workshopped with About Face Theatreâ€™s artistic director, Eric Rosen. The show is making its U.S. debut and inaugurates Lookingglass Theatreâ€™s new 50-seat black-box Chase Studio Theatre.
The show has its moments of humor and seriousness. However, the two are often intertwined in ways that they probably shouldnâ€™t be. An example of this is when Sir John uses a rap to try to get Clifford to leave his home, stay with him and become his protĂ©gĂ©. The moment is supposed to be serious, but the rhymes try too hard to get the point across and make the moment almost laughable.
Eminem laid the white-boy rap story out for us not too long ago: Boy has a hard family life, uses his music to cope with his problems and becomes a huge success. Itâ€™s expected the kid will have a hard time when his parents divorce, his mother will take it worse than his father, and this will have much to do with how he grows up. There are a few twists in the plot, but the vast majority of them are predictable and donâ€™t leave a lot to the imagination.
Although the story is not entirely new, the skill and performance level that actor and writer Sax brings to the stage is refreshing. Sax plays an entire cast of characters and by using strong body language and different voice ranges, he gives each of them dominant personalities. From playing Clifford/Clay to Cliffordâ€™s parents, step-mother and Sir John, itâ€™s clear that Sax understands the importance of physicality and tone of voice in theater.
Sax is also a phenomenal beatboxer. The sounds he makes are like a recording. The set is minimalisticâ€”red curtains drape the stage and graffiti decorates the side walls. However, lighting designer Christopher Ash uses this to his advantage, employing a scheme that creates picturesque moments on stage.
While the rhymes may not be the smoothest and the set not the most decorative, the show is what both Lookingglass and About Face strive to produceâ€”innovative theater.