Stupefaction: Morro & Jasp and the meaning of life, theatre, gods and Cheezies
by DREW ROWSOME - Photos by Alex Nirta
The regal Jasp, fired up by a newfound and freshly created religion, attempts to rid the packed audience in the Streetcar Crowsnest theatre, of negativity. Her effect on the cast is questionable. Morro & Jasp's Stupefaction's effect on the audience is a rousing success, to a person we left laughing and cleansed of all possible negativity.
We are seated, greeted and sold Cheezies by a somewhat clumsy usher, Elliot Loran (Ride the Cyclone), who, between preening and rehearsing dance moves, quickly comes in conflict with Morro and Jasp who join the audience. They are "two desperate clowns" who are attending the spectacle because the cell phone addicted Jasp is sad. As she explains it, "I was drowning in photos of other peoples' filtered happiness."
Due to "technical difficulties, the spectacular show never gets started (though the finale, which is the beginning, is a marvellous joke and narrative solution that is too hilarious to spoil). Fortunately there is a hunky technician, who Jasp and most of the audience has the hots for, Sefton Jackson, who arrives. While he struggles with the problems, FedEx, Anand Rajaram (Mustard), attempts to deliver a mysterious box. Stupefaction then descends into chaos and utter hilarity.
Jasp/Amy Lee (James and the Giant Peach, Bright Lights, 9 to 5) is regal, pompous, bossy and a bit of a bully. Naturally that makes her the perfect choice for a blessing by the god of theatrical lighting and comic bliss. She struts, leads a revival meeting, satirizes current and past dictators (she crows, "Think of it as liberation instead of limiting" and "Freedom through structure!"), and produces double takes that are breathtakingly precise. Her supposed subordinate, Morro/Heather Marie Annis (Bright Lights, 9 to 5), is the charming innocent clown who is blessed with a physicality that is as expressive as it uproariously funny. And she does heartbreak with a devastating impact, a ukulele rendition of REM elicits tears and tears of laughter.
Loran is every frustrated and failed would-be musical theatre star, torn apart by desperation and egotism. And he nails every line that punctures the specific arrogance of those poor creatures. He is hilarious and dares to take the usher far beyond the point where he becomes unlikable before deftly showing us the sadness under the monstrosity or just showing off with a jeté. Jackson would have earned accolades just for being such prime eye candy, but he also has a way of delivering one-liners that brought down the house. Rajaram's FedEx is a wide-eyed, one-note joke, but it is a good one that he delivers with aplomb, as well as bringing down the house with alliterative self-help psychobabble. And his one-on-one scenes with Morro are giddy tragedy that would be mesmerizing if one wasn't laughing so hard.
A slapstick chase scene falls flat, transitions between bits are a little messy, and some of the special effects (and they are spectacular, Morro and Jasp take full advantage of Streetcar Crowsnest's possibilities and whatever their budge was) are mistimed, but the true spectacle in Stupefaction is the interplay between the cast and the flood of lightning-quick comic ideas. Three hoary old circus clown acts are given a fresh coat of paint and turn fresh and novel, props are miraculous and even the audience participation segments are charmingly nasty. This is clowning with a razor blade embedded in the Cheezies, Morro & Jasp deliver a pertinent satirical warning about religion, power, politics, theatre, relationships and social media/technology, but make the audience laugh to the point of pain while they take their hits.
Clowning, and theatre, and satire, is messy work full of risk-taking and derring-do with a high chance of misstepping. When it also purges negativity, it is stupefying that it can accomplish that much. And that Stupefaction can be that much fun.