Watch your Butt

Butt Kapinski, Deanna Fleysher

Deanna Fleysher does participatory clown film noir at the Culture Lab until October 11

You know how laughter sometimes just keeps spooling out of you, like it’s this great, long silken rope and you can’t believe how much of it there is? Like you just sit there helplessly and shake while it keeps unraveling? Kids laugh like that all the time. And that’s how I was laughing when I saw Butt Kapinski, for my second time, at the Cultch last night.

LA clown Deanna Fleysher plays the title character, a private detective, in this theatrical film noir parody, and the audience plays everybody else. One lucky audience member even gets to vocalize the score. So you get to watch complete strangers and your friends enthusiastically becoming prostitutes and drunken cops, even—edgy—a Jewish slumlord. In other words, it’s one big, hilarious, cooperative game.

It’s also very smart, both theatrically and philosophically.Theatrically, the central device is the desk lamp that Butt carries on his back so that he can create those high-contrast shadows of film noir. Thematically, the currency is gender, which Butt Kapinski turns inside out: shadows again, but this time we get to inhabit the shadows of our own psyches. Yowza. I love that.

Fleysher is an adventurer. Her show is great. You should see it.

I also want to talk about a couple of things that got in the way on opening night.

One was the set-up of the room. Seating was arranged on three sides of the Vancity Culture Lab. It’s the smallest of the Cultch’s venues, but it still felt too big. There was too much space behind the rows of seats house left. And the arrangement of the seats was too formal. When I first saw Butt Kapinski, at the Fringe in 2012, we were all crammed into an ad hoc venue—maybe the False Creek Gym? There were chairs all over the place and it felt chaotic, which was just right. I hope that Fleysher roughs up the seating arrangement at the Culture Lab as the run progresses.

I also hope that she gets a more consistently excellent audience that she did on opening night. Most people were absolutely committed to the ride, so good on ’em. But a handful of folks—and a handful makes a difference in a small venue—were resistant.

At least one guy I know couldn’t participate fully because of a disability. Fair enough.

But, because the Cultch has subscribers who will turn up simply because a show is part of the season, there were also folks there who didn’t know what they were getting into. That’s not good. To get the most out of Butt Kapinski, you want to be there with fully committed playmates. Somebody should be fluffing those subscribers.

And there was one woman I could have smacked. She was uncooperative to say the least and, for a few tedious moments, made the evening all about her. This is somebody I see at openings all the time—in other words, somebody who should know better Jesus, lady, if you’re not ready to muck in, why show up?

So go—and throw yourself into it. You’ll be glad you did.

P.S. After I posted this, I realized that I should have given credit to magician Travis (Unpossible!) Bernhardt. Travis and I had a good ol’ chat after watching Butt Kapinski and he identified the subscriber-audience problem and helped to articulate the deal with the seating. So thanks, Travis!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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