You study the program, listen to the buzz while getting yours on in the Exit Theatre Café, read the audience reviews online, but in the end you never know what you’ll get. This year I led with my gut and — it being that kind of year — decided to go for all the dark stuff: the ugly, the brutal, the profane. So I started with clowns.
In truth, the choice to see physical comedy troupe Pi’s After-Party on opening night had less to do with anything inherently transgressive about clowns than with the juggling, which I’d glimpsed at the Fest’s Sneak Peak show last month, and which was great enough to merit a second viewing. I could watch those jugglers for hours: the courage, the concentration, the ingenuity, the balls.
Also the bowling pins and knives. A glow-in-the-dark routine was nearly balletic; a bloody mishap with the blades, almost operatic — if in a jocular, low-key sort of way.
As it turned out, the rest of the troupe’s routines, while uneven — a few bits felt either too familiar or underdeveloped — offered fresh and fine moments, with antics delivered expertly by a youthful, progressively endearing ensemble. Themes touching my heart included varied use of a casket and several walk-on appearances by the Grim Reaper. The grand finale — an all-out bone-crushing melee done in slow-mo — could have gone all night judging by audience guffaws and my own joyful tears. These are serious clowns, and their work is extremely silly.