Christopher Johnston is the coordinator of the Playwrights Gym at Dobama, co-founder of the Dark Room, a new works development workshop at CPT, and the Rauschenberg New Play Reading Series for Convergence-Continuum. His script, Selfies at the Clown Motel, is presently being staged at con-con.
Arthur Miller's plays explored the question, "Is this the best way to live?" Tennessee Williams, often using his own life, used his mother and sister as the basis for his scripts — women who found themselves in societies they didn't understand and whose inhabitants didn't understand them. William Inge looked at the darkness in life, those events in the hidden corners that challenged his characters.
It is not apparent what Christopher Johnston uses as the fulcrum for his plays. He states in Selfies' program notes that it is a "rendezvous of two lost and lonely souls."
The play opens with a man and woman having sex. Each apparently reaches satisfaction, there is a scream, and it becomes apparent that the male has died, with no apparent followup or further reference to the event.
We become aware that the woman's family owns the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada. She is a wire-walking clown having an affair with a motorcycle-riding married man who has abandoned his family; she has a mother (Agnes) and brother (Skar) who are psychotic; she probably had an affair with her brother (well, he's not exactly her brother), had an abortion, and her older "lover" comes and goes. There are scenes of male nudity, S & M, expelling of gas, discussions of casual sex, orgasms and so on.
(There actually is a Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, by the way. It is a small place noted for its exceptionally large collection of clown art.)
Selfies is a convoluted tale of perversion and dysfunction, with little obvious purpose.
The show's saving grace is the two outstanding performances by the athletic, beautiful Leah Smith (Chloe) as the clown, and John Busser (Rob) as her older lover. Both nicely texture their characterizations and create a duo of frustrated, rudderless people.
The use of clowns to reset scenes is clever, but overdone. How many times can the circus performers arrange and rearrange the bedspread and pillows before the effect becomes worn out?
In summary, Selfies at the Clown Motel is a difficult play to sit through. Its lack of focus and purpose, even with several outstanding performances, leaves little to recommend it.
Selfies at the Clown MotelThrough Sept. 17 at The Liminis, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074
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