Review: Red Bastard

Thank God the indyFringe Theatre Festival has their own space. If indyFringe didn’t have its own home, Indianapolis theatre would have missed dozens of Indianapolis performing arts events this year, including last weekend’s Red BastardThis traveling show, from New York based actor Eric Davis, has traversed the globe, sharing a unique brand of bouffonnerie and encouraging average people to reset their perspectives and priorities. Unfortunately, Red Bastard only played the indyFringe Theatre in Indianapolis downtown for a two night engagement. Audiences lucky enough to have caught it last weekend have their loyalty to the indyFringe Theatre Festival to thank. If you missed it, this review is just one more reason why you should stay up to date with what the organizers of indyFringe plan for Indianapolis people. This Indianapolis arts organization has placed their finger on the edgy fringes of Indianapolis community theatre, as well as global fringe theatre making for an incredibly interesting niche of performances all year long.

Eric Davis is Red Bastard. In an original one man show, this former Cirque du Soleil performer strikes out on his own using movement and improvisation to entertain and challenge audiences. A trained clown in the Pochinko clown technique, Davis has been a practitioner and teacher of improvisation, movement, Lecoq technique and mask for more than fifteen years. His work is internationally acclaimed. As a nominee for the 2007 Golden Nose Award for Clown of the Year in New York and a finalist for the NY Comedy Festival’s Andy Kaufman award, Davis’ work has made him a force to be reckoned with in the world of clowning.

His original show Red Bastardtakes a subversive stance against the system that defines our lives. He views his audience as trapped by their own inhibitions and obligations, and urges us to break free from the daily grind to pursue our true passions, what ever that may be. With his message in the guise of a demonic bouffon, Davis wins his audience and makes his point with the gentleness of laughter and the exhilaration of live performance, placing the entire room on stage with him. This highly interactive performance piece presents a fearful challenge for most actors: fill an hours worth of time with loosely organized improvisation that originates from a crowd of people  you have never met and who may not want to take this trip with you. But from the moment Davis steps on stage he ably brings each and every person to his way of thinking, preparing his audience for what can sometimes be an uncomfortable but nevertheless entertaining journey.

Davis has performed Red Bastard for audiences around the world, leaving each successive city with more acclaim than he arrived with. The show has true international appeal not just because of Davis’ daring talent for understanding his audience, but also because of the show’s universal themes, which I’m sure change little from continent to continent. Davis simply poses the question, “What are we all so afraid of?” In a little more than an hour he asks each member of the audience to answer on different terms, whether by shouting out curse words or counting to ten directly into Red Bastard’s mouth.

Dressed from head to ankle in a red body suit with protruding growths, a huge belly and a giant ass, Red Bastard is the devil on your shoulder, who in one moment chides you for your insecurities and in the next urges you to do what others say “can’t” or “shouldn’t” to. His painted white faces, bulging red lips and red ringed eyes offer various expressions of disgust and delight, as Red Bastard charms his audience with biting wit and daring feats. Dressed as this demonic figure, he has full license to say or do absolutely anything. Davis takes this fact to the brink from start to finish.

No one show is the same for this actor, as he preys on the minds of his patrons, pushing each person to think long and hard about their choices in life through his unmatched brand of ghoulish humor. It is Davis’ willingness to reinvent his performance night after night which keeps him so alive on stage. Drawing on what ever the audience does or does not supply him, he creates an entirely new experience every time he steps on stage.

His build to a meaningful message about remembering and following your dreams starts with one simple idea: “Something interesting must happen on stage every ten seconds.” He makes this high demand of himself at the start of his show, gradually introducing his audience to the idea of participating in his experiment by urging  us to count down for him as he does something interesting every ten seconds. In a simple contest to see if we can get to ten before he beats us with something interesting, he creates a lasting dynamic of challenges from his audience to him and from him to his audience. Once we begin honestly competing with him in this obviously unmatched counting battle, Davis has us instantaneously eating from the palm of his hand, and we gladly do so for the rest of his performance.

Disarming us further, Red Bastard dons the mask of a teacher of a theatrical master class. He asks us to suspend, to displace, to be big, to be little all in an effort to warm up our comfort boundaries. In a brilliant move, Davis asks his entire audience to get up and find a new seat, where they are left for the majority of the show. In the confusion, friends are separated from friends, husbands from wives, boyfriends from girlfriends, etc. Each audience member sits with strangers for the remainder of the show, pulling us together as a group as we voraciously eat up the tasks Red Bastard sets before us throughout the first half of the show. Pushing us to the very edge, Red Bastard often finds himself overloaded, as Davis spastically peers from side to side hissing and gnashing his teeth in true demon fashion.

With our comfort levels fully expanded, Red Bastard proceeds to hand the second half of the show over to the audience, attempting to drive home his lofty message. He places the success, content and our own enjoyment of his show in our hands, asking us to stay honest and open through his next exercise. He elicits the entire audience to yell out their inner most dreams and secret desires, one by one, as he fills a “dream bag” full of our collective goals. With dreams that ranged from being a race car driver, a mother, a guitar player, a film maker and even leaving our broken marriages, the imaginary bag grew more and more plump.

With one simple question, Red Bastard shatters our perspective entirely. “What is stopping you?” he asks, likening our un-achieved dreams to the story of Sisyphus, who pushed the crumbling boulder up a mountain for eternity. In his comic impish way, Red Bastard implies that our dreams crumble only when self doubt and excuses climb into cracks of insecurity. Urging one man to call his boss and quit his job to pursue his dream of racing around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Red Bastard makes everything seem possible. Eric Davis, is after all, living his dream dressed up as Red Bastard and traveling the world with his beguiling message and demonic antics.

Red Bastard is, in a way, a call to action. In an entertaining romp, Eric Davis shows that he truly is a master of physicality, improvisation and comedy. But more than that, Davis proves himself a master of humanity, ever in touch with an ideal of seizing life. Simply put Davis is brilliant as Red Bastard, the demon bouffon, who spits, curses and inspires. If you ever again have the opportunity to see this master of clowning perform, seize it! To learn more about Red Bastard and Eric Davis, visit his website.

Wish you had experienced this pushy performance art piece? Don’t want to miss another great Indianapolis theatre opportunity like this one? Keep up to date on what is happening at the indyFringe Theatre at Indianapolis theatre on Fun City This Indianapolis nonprofit organization not only supports local Indianapolis artists in their theatrical undertakings, it also brings in some of the most innovative theatre talent available in the United States. With prime Indianapolis real estate in the Indianapolis cultural district, Mass Ave, the indyFringe Theatre is located near tons of other great Indianapolis theatres including the Phoenix Theatre, Theatre on the Square and the Old National Centre (formerly Murat Theatre).

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Red Bastard
June, 2010

IndyFringe Theatre Festival
The IndyFringe Building
719 E St. Clair St
Indianapolis, IN46202