Before Carla Rossi woke up, stranded on a mostly submerged rock in the middle of the ocean, a "frazzled arts administrator" delivered a land acknowledgement. It wasn't your typical acknowledgement: of land stolen from Indigenous people. The half-panicked voice started, forgot, circled back, warned that the show would include "murder, extinction, Liza Minnelli, and the end of the world," and then sort of half-screamed about everyone putting their cell phones away.
The land acknowledgement was my favorite part of the show, and while that seems rude, that voice was absolutely a creation of Anthony Hudson.
In brief, the thing to understand about Carla Rossi is she's a drag persona that has, over time, become somewhat symbiotic with her creator, artist and writer Anthony Hudson. Carla Rossi is a clown and—in my favorite version—a white lady from Lake Oswego who works (volunteers?) at a variety of nonprofit and arts institutions. Anthony Hudson has always taken this duality in stride, in previous interviews describing Carla Rossi as a trickster spirit and a logical character drawn from their First Nations identity.
Clown Down 2: Clown Out of Water is a sequel to an hour-long 2019 show, Clown Down: Failure to Mount, which Anthony Hudson described as a break from the deep identity work of adapting Looking for Tiger Lily into a fully staged production. Going forward, we're going to call these projects CD1 and CD2.
As the show continued (but before Carla Rossi woke up on that rock), a character from CD1—Iphigenia, a life alert bracelet Carla Rossi stole from a senior center—took the audience through a quick recap of the first show. The main conflict of CD1 is that Carla Rossi is trapped under a fallen cabinet she neglected to mount to her wall. She is visited by a telekinetic Liza Minnelli, an opossum suicide cult, and a conservative, sentient pickle, among others.
CD2 follows a similar narrative trajectory. Upon awakening "on a rock in the middle of the ocean" Carla Rossi looks around and shouts “Not again!” Our party girl is back, wearing a gymnast-style onesie—the design is a nod to her athletic leisurewear from the first show—and next level sparkly sneakers.
I reviewed CD1 glowingly, but Iphigenia's review made me realize just how much of the first show was Jim-Henson-suicide-cult, in vibe. CD2 is Jim Henson-apocalypse-cult.
Now I see Greek tragedy in everything, I'm a Euripides stan, but Anthony Hudson didn't name that life alert character Iphigenia for nothing. CD2 is arranged with a didactic structure—as each new character happens upon the stranded Carla Rossi, they monologue about their identity and philosophical viewpoints. For her part, Carla Rossi interjects either interruptions or an incredible body of facial reactions.
Until now, much of Anthony Hudson's comedy could be described as dense, reference-heavy absurdism. That's still in CD2, but there's also a new layer of deft timing work—many gags repeated five to 15 times, with increasing audience antagonism. That's true clowning, with laughter pulled from a variety of emotion—from discomfort and revulsion as much as joy.
Whether this is a new direction for Anthony Hudson / Carla Rossi or just an appropriate tone for TBA audiences—who like a challenge—I respect it. And I never want to talk or think about that seagull with IBS ever again.
Clown Down 2: Clown Out of Water will show three more times at the 2022 Time Based Art Festival, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 15 NE Hancock, Fri Sept 16, 6 pm; Sat Sept 17& Sun Sept 18, 2 pm, sliding scale $10-25, tickets here)
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