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That Beautiful Laugh

The Artigiani Troupe

By Emily Hockaday
Photo courtesy of the Artigiani Troupe

As part of La Mama’s 50th Anniversary Season, That Beautiful Laugh has certainly captured a celebratory and joyous quality. The piece was inspired by director Orlando Pabotoy’s nightly bedtime storytelling ritual with his son. From the very start, when the musicians enter and begin defining the space, magic is present. The pianist walks on stage, and opens a door to a cutout paper puppetry set where an umbrella is traveling from afar and getting nearer. He closes that door and then opens the other to find the umbrella enlarged and getting even closer. Finally, Alan Tudyk arrives from back stage carrying a bright red umbrella to tie up this visual gag. Tudyk then invites us into a story where laughter has been forgotten and must be defined and discovered, and gives birth to two clowns, a nose for himself, and also an egg. To be trite: hilarity ensues.

The set consists of an arch with fabric curtains attached, two doors on both sides, and cubbies to hold props. The simplicity and resourcefulness of this set recalls traveling comedy troupes of the past. Costume designer Tilly Grimes clothes our clowns in colorful mismatched items that, as a whole palette, create a beautiful picture that is reminiscent of another era. There are aspects of the “tramp” type in the design, but they seem to be an amalgam of styles from different backgrounds.

The three clowns are charmingly aware of the audience’s presence throughout. In fact, their discovery of the audience is one of the funniest and most endearing sketches. The show involves a fair bit of vaudeville-style comedy acts aimed at the audience’s pleasure. The sketches allow each clown to develop a consistent personality, and their interactions are delightful and amusing.

The entire cast is fantastic—the energy and earnestness behind their actions work brilliantly, making for surprising and successful humor. The troupe includes Alan Tudyk, Julia Ogilvie and Carlton Ward. These three actors are supported by the talented Harrison Beck (accordion) and Eugene Ma (piano), who, with the use of instruments and vocals, provide well-timed sound effects and music. The sense of play is what drives this performance. The broad physicality, choreography, props, and many styles of entertainment keep the show fresh and engaging. One standout moment is a shadow-puppet bit with lovely and intricate pieces that are well handled and visually spectacular.

That Beautiful Laugh is not to be missed. Spectators will eagerly await the Artigiani Troupe’s next endeavor.

That Beautiful Laugh; conceived and directed by Orlando Pabotoy; the Artigiani Troupe; the Club at La Mama; 74A East 4th Street;