Category Archives: Old Time Radio

Don’t bother, they’re here – The Four Clowns at the Hollywood Fringe Fest


(from left to right) Elizabeth Godley as Nimrod and Don Colliver as Butterbeans Arbuckle. Photo courtesy Drew Eiden and The Four Clowns Theatre Company

‘Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’ by The Four Clowns plays against routine floppy shoe and funny nose expectations of the form. It is, rather, a brisk, lighthearted hour of broad physical comedy and laughs designed for a festival audience and nicely played by a convivial cast.

Jamie Franta and Don Colliver’s storyline is loosely organized around cut-rate impresario Butterbeans Arbuckle (Colliver) and his carefully curated castoffs (the eponymous Halfwits) trying to keep their vaudeville going under external assaults. Arbuckle’s rival, The Real McCoy (Jolene Kim in a trouser role) left showbiz, made a killing in technology, and returns to engulf and devour. This could be an Inside Baseball smirk at the always beleaguered Los Angeles theatre community or just a point of departure for wacky hijinks and tragicomic mayhem – viewer’s choice.

The fourth wall in obliterated as soon as the audience filters in – these clowns can and will work with human props. Those who can roll with good-natured fun should come early and sit in the front rows. The premise is a show-within-a-show as the Halfwits strut their stuff against bad odds. A sturdy German brother and sister act (Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman) tumble, an operatic puppeteer (Charlotte Chanler) and her foil capably toss orff ‘O Fortuna’. Dissatisified with the slow progress of sabotage, McCoy and his henchmen (Tyler Bremer, Jamarr Love) resort to kidnapping the troupe including the stiltwalker (Hélène Udy), an unseen knife thrower, and even induce the burlesque dancer (Franta) to switch sides. Ego-driven Arbuckle resolves to finish the show himself with some help from his trusty, cuter-than-most-buttons sidekick Nimrod (Elizabeth Godley). Suffice it to say, things get dark shortly thereafter with an entirely unexpected character (Julia Davis) popping up to save what’s left of the day. Wayne Holland’s understated piano accompaniment neatly frames the carnage smartly lit and costumed by Donny Jackson and Elena Flores.

The Four Clowns formed in 2010 to perform at this same Festival and have since put down roots. They have a core company, tour nationally and internationally, and have assiduously cultivated an audience. It’s a large cast with a capable production team of designers and choreographers standing out among a large number of solo and small-cast shows. Director David Anis pushes the physically risky stuff as far as he responsibly can within the load-in, rehearsal, and strike times associated with shared spaces. The whole affair is reminiscent of the classic Jack Benny radio programs especially those where he feuds with Fred Allen. A sympathetic studio audience is essential in those cases to spackle over minor flubs and timing glitches.  A packed house at the Lillian Theatre ate it up vigorously.

‘Last Hurrah’ is theatrical dessert that wisely doesn’t push a premise beyond its limits. In so doing, it simultaneously whets the appetite for productions of broader scope, length, and complexity from this group. The late, lamented Edge of the World Theatre Festival allowed such risk taking in the past and it appears the Hollywood Fringe is carrying on that good work. Physical theatre has a strong tradition in Los Angeles with resident and touring companies alike setting a high standard for movement, commedia, maskwork, and dance. We can look forward to seeing how The Four Clowns takes a place at this table.

‘The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’
The Four Clowns Company at The Hollywood Fringe Festival
Thurs. 6/4 at 8:30pm
Sat. 6/13 at 10:30pm
Thurs. 6/18 at 7pm
Sat. 6/20 at 11:55pm
Tues. 6/23 at 8:30pm
Fri. 6/26 at 10:30pm
at The Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038

O Fortuna Misheard Lyrics

Watch this video on YouTube.

Elderly Man River rolling no more – RIP Stan Freberg

Sad news from Santa Monica, legendary satirist and later ad man Stan Freberg has passed away.

Via LA Observed

Stan Freberg had one of those Los Angeles careers. He was at the end of the national radio programs and the start of TV, including for KTLA Channel 5. He did voice work for Warner Bros, Disney and others. He was known to many first as a cultural and political satirist, putting out albums that spoofed hit songs of his day, and as an advertising executive he created memorable unconventional campaigns. The phrase “just the facts, ma’am” attributed to Dragnet’s Joe Friday is actually from Freberg’s spoof of Dragnet, apparently. His friends included Ray Bradbury.

Elderly Man River- Stan Freberg and Daws Butler

Watch this video on YouTube.

With Folded Hands

1984 didn’t happen exactly on the year but the foundations had been laid by then. Computers were better when networked and the research labs of the world began to view the schlepping of data and email as indispensable. A few years after that, CERN and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web and stuff happened.

Some of the most sought-after jobs these days, at least among the tech crowd, involve creating machines and algorithms to do what humans once did. The first rule of finance is to find the cheapest source of human labor, close behind that is replacing that labor altogether. With corporations having the effective status of a person, it is unsurprising that they’d seek effective analogs of workers. In this case, the analogs are digital. At some point, the machines will get just good enough to make it a contest between them and us. Science Fiction has loved this theme but it always felt too far off in the future for the current crop to fret. CGP Grey – whoever that may be – says, “Not so fast.” The thesis is not perfect and stacked in aspects but the underlying concern is not. “Grey” does spend some time looking at the human implications of staggering unemployment and the inequalities it will deepen.

An underappreciated representation of these fears, “With Folded Hands,” appeared in 1947 and was adapted into a radio story on Dimension X. It is worth a listen.

Turning off the roar in the head – Silent Stay

It is of course ironic to post a link to an article about disconnecting from the Internet grid. Nevertheless, Avital Andrews’s Bring on the Solitude article in the LA Times about Silent Stay is worth a look. This resort in Vacaville, CA offers a chance to experience peace and quiet, subtly enforced by policy. It sounds very tempting although Andrews confesses that it didn’t completely take with her.

The retreat’s website is at

Sounds similar to the San Francisco Zen Center’s Tassjara Mountain Center

Old Time Radio fans may recall the Mr. Costello, Hero episode of the terrific X Minus One series of the 1950s. Theodore Sturgeon’s not-so-subtle slam at McCarthyism centers around a society where forbidding solitude became a means of social control.

Addendum: In her article, Andrews writes “That’s when I noticed that the silence wasn’t really silent. When you banish the sound of traffic, the phone, the alarm clock, the laptop and the TV, what’s left isn’t soundlessness. ” The LA Phil will be performing Cage’s 4’33” at its 2013 Gala Opening.