Natalie Rine, Associate New York Critic
In full disclaimer, my experience with clowning as a form of theatrical expression starts and ends with seeing the hilarious duo in Cirque’s “O” mime and gesticulate their way through a range of comedic, watery situations. Beyond that, all I know is clowns, however, also get a bad American cultural reputation being featured in horrors like “It” and “American Horror Story,” where one begins to associate the painted face as one that is hiding sinister intentions, flipping between a buffoonish, childish appeal to menacing, grotesque intentions depending who you ask. Elise B. in her one-woman production “One Apple a Day” expertly walks this tightrope between life’s light and dark, joy and sorrow, juxtaposing perfect comedic timing with heartbreaking existentialism as she transforms with ease between four original characters trying to navigate and understand the lives they find they are living. Well, rather, they are questioning what does it mean to be alive?
From the French pop music pre-show to the whiteboard used to educate the audience on the scientifically-defined characteristics of life, big ideas float effortlessly through Elise B’s artistic choices; from the minimalist script to physical comedy, one can’t help but laugh along as her characters bumble and fumble about the almost bare stage, questioning l'histoire and creation of life. The setting of the piece is somewhere in the Universe, and the characters we follow are Adélaïde, Ricarda, Jeanne-Geneviève, and Professor I. Mysterious, demure, clumsy, curious, yearning, and so much more, each character can’t shake the feeling of being on the precipice of creating or discovering something. It is precisely this quest for discovery, this kernel of possibility, that drives Elise B’s pedagogical point of creation quite possibly being the crux of being alive. We find this existentialism in small, seemingly mundane moments of the comedy. A hairdryer attached to an impossibly long cord blown at drawings the Creator puts on paper transforms them from ideas to creation, and the first apple appears. A bike helmet’s lights are turned on so one might see them, if there is anyone else out there in the Universe to even come looking for them. The professor can check every box of the Characteristics of Life list to prove she is alive except one: reproduction. An apple pie is made.
Played back and forth between characters, Elise B’s sidesplitting performance and writing has me wondering what it means to live, particularly between characters; we in the audience are also stuck in a sort of liminality, caught between what personality, what face we decide to show the world each day. Hiding inside their lonely, individual lives, these characters recognize that life is made up of mere minutes, and regardless of if they ever find someone else out there, there’s always another minute, another outcome, waiting.
The genius of this piece is in the literal act of creation that Elise B. has her buffoon Ricarda (whose sole line throughout the piece is a simplistic “Ta da”) perform: the creation of an apple pie. Who is to say the creation of the apple pie doesn’t fulfill the requirement of “reproduction”? What about the act of creating this play? Elise B. proves she has the wisdom, wit, and tenacity to blend the philosophy and comedy skills expert clowning requires, and she is without a doubt a star to watch out for—and that’s no joke.
ONE APPLE A DAY
“One Apple a Day” is written and performed by Elise B. Artistic Catalyst: Kaitlin Kaufman. Clown Facilitator: Katie Rebich. Heart Engineer: David B. Run time is one hour, no intermission.
“One Apple a Day” ran at The Tank (312 W 36th St, 1st Floor) as part of the festival LadyFest on Tuesday, August 13, 2019. For more information, please visit www.thetanknyc.org.
Photo of Elise B, courtesy of Emily Owens PR.