Mump and Smoot in “Anything”

Since I started paying attention to the breadth of live theatre available in Edmonton, I’ve gradually discovered that Edmonton has an unusually strong tradition of clown and physical theatre, in part due to the teaching and mentoring of master clowns like Jan Henderson and Michael Kennard, at University of Alberta and elsewhere.  I’ve seen many of their students and former students perform, but never had the chance to see either of them on stage.

Mump and Smoot are the creations of Michael Kennard and John Turner.  According to the program for Mump and Smoot in Anything, the artists met at Second City in Toronto, both studied with Richard Pochinko who basically started the Canadian style of clowning, and have been performing Mump and Smoot for twenty-six years.   For those who hadn’t heard of the duo before or who hadn’t noticed that the title on the program cover seemed to be written in dripping blood, the program also helpfully mentioned that they are referred to as “clowns of horror”.   This and their general reputation cued me to expect something a little more gory and gross than a typical clown show – and the hints were welcome.

Like many clowns from the Pochinko tradition, Mump and Smoot vocalize but not always in comprehensible vernacular.  (A show I saw last winter from Calgary’s PIE Factory Collective had the interesting variation of using a gibberish that contained bits of French and bits of English.)  Their unique language, “Ummonian”, contains enough English words and near-English along with gestures and unmistakable facial expressions that after the first framing sequence it was fairly easy to follow the narrative of the three following vignettes and final sequence.  Mump (Michael Kennard) was the taller one, a higher-status older-brother type of role.  Smoot (John Turner) was the one who connected with the audience and drew the audience’s sympathies.  Prop changes and scene introductions were managed by a silent white-faced woman in straggly white draperies with a very Catalyst-Theatre aesthetic, Candace Berlinguette as Knooma.   The three scenes were titled “The Escape”, “The Romp”, and “The Remedy”.  They fit together somewhat but were mostly separate stories.  They were funny and poignant and occasionally really gross and creepy, but in ways that the audience seemed to enjoy sharing.  There was a little bit of audience participation, generally consensual and not too embarrassing.

I laughed a lot and I found the stories satisfying.  Part of why I don’t enjoy clowns from the American circus traditions or a lot of mimes is that I don’t enjoy perpetual-victim stories like RoadRunner and Coyote.  But these two characters Mump and Smoot, for all their weird troubles and disagreements, didn’t seem to be trying to beat each other or trick each other.  They liked each other.  As with the Rocket and SheShells duo (Adam Keefe and Christine Lesiak, seen in Fools for Love and in Sofa So Good) or the Nona and Squee partnership of Life After Breath (Amy Chow and Neelam Chattoo), they argued in ways that were familiar enough to be funny, and came to fair resolutions.   I can see that both performers were very good at what they did, at communicating just enough of their emotions and intentions to captivate the audience and developing a story with just enough unpredictability to delight.  I don’t know how they did it.  I would definitely watch them again.  In anything.  Or, well, in Anything, if my schedule permitted.

Mump and Smoot in Anything is playing at the Roxy Theatre on 124 Street until April 27th.  Tickets are available through Theatre Network.

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