Fringe Review: Filthy, lovable bouffons await at “Cul de Sac”

REVIEW FROM OUR SPECIAL COVERAGE OF THE 2017 MONTREAL FRINGE FESTIVAL

(Photo: MaeBlak Photography)

Les Bouffons de Bellefeuille, a Montreal clown troupe created by Massimo Agostinelli, entertain audiences with their phenomenal chemistry in Cul de Sac. The company identifies the show’s themes as marginality, desire, being accepted, and the quest for a better future. While this description certainly informs the performance, it is only one of many interpretations an audience might draw from the choreographed physical comedy.

Les Bouffons supposedly live in the dark of the metro tunnels, never having seen the light of day. Therefore, when one enters the theatre, the whole band is clumped together in the shadows to take tickets and encounter each audience member personally, loudly expressing excitement and awe for every person’s entrance. This is an effective first encounter with the clowns as it introduces their collective energy up close.

From the beginning of the show, the bouffons move around the stage as a tightly knit group. Indeed, the performers’ tomfoolery is most effective as a simultaneous orchestra of chaos. The gang’s chemistry is by far one of the strongest points of the show, their characters and physicalities being both distinct but unified. Each individual performer charms the audience with their unique presence when they take their moment in the spotlight.

What sets this clown group apart from others is their crude humor, which of course fits their Montreal-metro home. One can expect farting, vomiting, spitting, touching oneself, “couilles,” pads, and poop. That’s not to mention their obscenely large body parts. Body parts and body fluids are all exaggerated but normalized for these filthy creatures.

Born of the filth of the metro, the setting of the show is visible in the characters’ costumes and demeanor. They perform as buskers at one point, with a cello and castanets. Sound cues play recordings from the city’s metro trains. They also pull props out of a garbage can (though it is a classic metal trash can, rather than resembling Montreal’s garbage cans). Thus, the show is set in the underground train tunnels, but dramaturgically the show is only loosely Montreal-focused.

The costumes are all achieved with wrapping and stuffing various body parts to create bulging exaggerations specific to each character. Some have giant breasts, low-drooping breasts, a giant phallus, a humpback or giant buttocks. Their smeared makeup and hodgepodge of textiles gives the feeling of dirty, homeless existence.

The only part which drags on a little too long is a goofy exhibition of different dance styles, from ballet to hip hop. One bouffon tells the audience, he likes tango best because “you get to squish all kinds of things together.” While their movements are still hilarious in attempting to dance, the sequence does drag a bit.

The show’s structure is linear, as one thing leads into the next, but there is no conventional plot or driving goal behind the action. This is perhaps to evoke their unchanging quotidian underground existence, simply trying to survive and be understood. The different acts within the show are well choreographed to lead into one another. For example, a scrambling emergency scene leads to them rummaging in a little suitcase, which leads to selling their handmade dolls to the audience out of the little suitcase. The “crache le cash!” sequence is an endearing infiltration into the audience with their little bulging creations. Each doll has a story, and many exhibit the same crudeness as the clowns, like a little turd-shaped “poopée.”

Audiences should be aware that though the show is technically bilingual, it is mostly french with a dash of frenglish. Of course, all audiences can enjoy the physical humor and bulging body parts, but a great number of jokes will be missed. The ideal audience is bilingual or francophone.

The theme of marginality definitely comes through as these strange characters strive to be understood by each other and by the audience. The theme of desire takes on an odd form, of the weird likes and dislikes of each clown, as well as an acknowledgement of bodily desire as part of the crude body humor.

At the end of the performance, the clown workshop leader Agostinelli comes onstage to talk about his work, and it is heartwarming to see him surrounded by his transformed performers, all still in character.

Cul de Sac is a wonderfully chaotic performance of filthy, lovable characters. Their baseness defies clever comedy, and by mocking the most timeless of taboos (the human body), they ultimately promote the acceptance and normalizing of all body shapes, body functions, and human nature. Be prepared to fall in love with these bouffons, and perhaps buy one of their cute doll souvenirs.

Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Celine Cardineau

Bouffon de Bellefeuille presents “Cul de Sac”

When: June 9 – 18, 2017
Where: Studio Multimédia du Conservatoire, 4750 Henri-Julien
Admission: $10
Duration: 55 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)


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Celine Cardineau

2017 Fringe Reviewer at Montreal Theatre Hub
Celine Cardineau is a multidisciplinary artist from the United States. She is going on her fourth year at Concordia University, studying Studio Arts and Theatre Design. At the moment, she works primarily in painting and in building props and puppets, but she also enjoys illustration, photography, scene painting, and costume design. However, her strongest interest is in collaborating with other artists, no matter the medium. Learning to give and to receive critique is a personal priority for Celine, hence her passion for seeing, discussing, analyzing and reviewing productions.
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