Mump and Smoot
in Ferno and Caged
at the American Reperatory Theatre
through July 24
Warning: two lunatics have escaped from Toronto and are on the loose in Cambridge. "Mump" and "Smoot" were last seen wearing white paint and red noses, and are considered to be armed and humorous. Citizens should be on the lookout for this duo!
Actually, you don't have to be all that sharp to catch these Canadian clowns, whose show Ferno (running in repertory with Caged) can be seen July 7-24 at the A.R.T. All you have to do is buy a ticket--and it's well worth the price. Mump and Smoot may be clowns, but they're nobody's fools, and Ferno is unlike and clown act you've ever seen before.
Michael Kennard (Mump) and John Turner (Smoot) deliver a witty and thoughtful performance that often borders on the hilarious. Using movement as their primary mode of expression (they do speak, but whatever it is, it ain't English), Mump and Smoot enact a ridiculous tale of high misadventure, playing on themes ranging from pop culture to cannibalism, from domestic violence to wacky religious cults.
The plot at first seems loosely defined--you feel almost as if the clowns are couple of kids playing dress-up and making up the story as they go along. Mump and Smoot add to this impression with the kind of improvisation and audience interaction that come naturally to two veterans of Toronto's prestigious Second City improve troupe.
Some people might be bothered by a sense that there is no carefully scripted plot driving the action forward. If they're patient, though, they might just realize that all the seemingly random gags are precisely planned, and that the entire show is a tight cycle following a bizarre internal logic all its own.
Even more interesting than the unfolding of the plot, though, is the interaction between Mump and Smoot and the way that they manage to create complex characters without the aid of intelligible language. Mump seems first merely to be the straight man to Smoot's comic. But Mump is also clearly the leader: arrogant, self-assured, and at times abusive to his sidekick. Smoot is the underdog the audience roots for--but he is also wily, vindictive, and--with the audience's help--even manages to one-up Mump a time or two. Both characters grapple with moral issues usually far beyond the scope of clown shtick, and both infuse their comedy with an underlying shadow of self-destruction and despair. Clearly, Mump and Smoot are not the kind of clowns to take small children or mentally unstable friends to see.
Comedian Jack Handey may have had characters like Mump and Smoot in mind when he wrote, "To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact, they're kind of scary. I've wondered where his started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my dad."
Mump and Smoot manage to be little bit scary, a whole lot funny and more refreshingly original than anything to come to the A.R.T. in a long time. Check your clown prejudices at the door, and you'll be in for one of the most entertaining shows in town.