The Performant: Humanesque

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“More Human Than Human” and “Two Clowns” explore the in/human condition

If our frail human lives begin, as the fundies would have it, at the moment of conception, at what point are we defined as being possessed of humanity? Is it simply a matter of our genetic makeup? Is it possible for a fully “human” consciousness to develop in non-human entities, and is it such consciousness that defines us at all? At what point, if ever, do we abdicate our rights to lay claim to our humanity? These questions may not be new, but they never seem to go entirely out of fashion, and this weekend you can catch two very different pieces of theatre tackling these persistent conundrums: “More Human than Human,” at The Dark Room, and “Two Clowns” at the Boxcar Theatre Studios on Hyde Steet.

More Human than Human,” penned by B. Duke (Paul Addis), is a prequel to the cult film Bladerunner (1982) and the novel from which it was adapted, Philip K. Dick’s enduring sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). Taking the tack that it is the artistic abilities displayed by the rogue replicants which propels their burgeoning self-awareness, “Human” turns pleasure model Pris (Kendra Coeur) into an aspiring ballerina, assassin/burlesque dancer Zhora (Alissa Magrill) into an opera singer, the slow-witted Leon (Alejandro Torres) into a sensitive photographer, and the ringleader Roy (Ronan Barbour) into an appreciator (though not a writer) of poetry.

Two other replicants, Hector (Sean Mann) and Jennifer (Francesca Crebassa) created especially for this origin story, display similar talents, and together the six formulate a plan to hijack a shuttle and head to earth to pursue their dreams. The very definition of “bare bones,” it’s not a production that seems destined to reach a broad audience, though certainly “dickheads” and Bladerunner completists will be intrigued, but the suggestion it raises that self-awareness is a side-effect of the creative drive is one worth mulling over, whether in the theatre, or maybe just over a few beers.

In Ronnie Larsen’s “Two Clowns,” the oddience is introduced to two very different icons of our collective American consciousness—Divine and John Wayne Gacy. The first half follows Harris Glenn Milstead, Divine’s alter-ego and creator, for the last 24 hours of his short life, preparing to put the Divine character to rest and seek his fortunes playing male roles. Actually it’s a little misleading to bill it as a play about Divine, since the play is really about Milstead’s desire to shed the Divine character and reinvent himself, but the second half of the show, the John Wayne Gacy half, is very definitely about the notorious “killer clown”.

As Gacy, Larsen morphs chillingly into a fast-talking, swaggering braggart whose hardened exterior shell can’t entirely conceal a gaping hollow within that he ravenously tries to fill with violence and sex. Alternating between bragging about his exploits and protesting that he’s no “sicko,” Gacy’s snarling monologues are interspersed with testimony from his mother, his ex-wife, and Jeffrey Ringall, one of the few of his victims known to have survived his encounter with the prolific serial killer. Like “More Human than Human,” the subject matter of “Two Clowns” proves more compelling than the actual staging, but its unflinching focus on the outer edge of humanity’s imperfections does provide an intriguing opportunity for reflection.

More Human than Human
Through Nov 19
8 p.m., $25
The Dark Room
2263 Mission, SF
(415) 401-7987
www.darkroomsf.com
www.morehumanthanhuman.org

Two Clowns
Through Nov 26
7 p.m., $20
Boxcar Theatre Studios
125A Hyde, SF
(415) 967-2227
www.boxcartheatre.org
www.ronnielarsen.com

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