American comedian talks of life with puppet act

February 5th, 2012 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) Social realities, tragedies, life’s profound truths, cynicism, laughter, theatre and puppets made of objects daily used come together in leading American physical comedienne Hilary Chaplain’s award-winning signature act, “A Life In Her Day”.

Chaplain, who has been touring the world with her one-woman show, was in India to perform at the 10th Ishara International Puppet Festival in the capital Feb 1-15. She performed Friday at the India Habitat Centre.

The act has been directed by American vaudeville performer and the lead of the 1985 movie “Jewel in the Nile” of Avner Eisenberg.

Chaplain’s one-hour non-stop act follows a day in the life of a mad-hatter Jewish woman who shares her private space with the people.

Grounded in traditional clowning, physical acting and monologue, she shares her most private moments — like engagement, falling in love, wedding, honeymoon, child birth and the Jewish-style baptism of her child in a hostess gown — on the stage with her audience in a day.

It is the only gift that a comedian can give to the audience, the comedienne said.

Chaplain transforms simple objects like lamp-posts, paper towels and a dress made of lamp shade into characters. The show uses basic elements of puppetry by using objects as dolls on the stage to people the space and create new characters.

It drives home a crucial and neo-contemporary message: a performer does not need human company on stage. Innovative use of objects can stand in for a cast. The audience is riveted to the stage till the end of the monologue because of powerful story-telling and Chaplain’s astounding range of expressions and movements.

A element of slapstick adds to the mirth - and yet conveys a sense of wistfulness at the same time. A roll of paper towels becomes Chaplain’s son on stage while she marries a lamppost of a man clad in a paper veil.

She comments on the 21st century human isolation, reversal of roles and the lonely lives of women especially in the West, looking for love and sense of belonging. The act comes across as Charlie Chaplain’s tragic-comic showcases and Lucille Ball’s slapstick rolled into one.

“I am an actress, physical comedian and a clown… it just kind of happened to me,” Chaplain told IANS.

“When I went to school in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, I trained with a little Italian American man - my teacher Tony Montanan - who was a brilliant comic. I studied with him for a number of years and with other persons engaged in clowning and comedy

“I really had no interest in it but the clown kept coming back to me though I wanted to be taken seriously,” she said.

The comedienne said she wanted to be “taken seriously as an actress but kept working as a clown”.

“I wondered why I was not taken seriously… Only when I started auditioning for a series in New York I realised that I had the ability for physical comedy. I combined physical acting with monologue. And everyone said here is this actress who is very serious,” Chaplain said.

The comedienne is also a founder of the New York Goofs (1998), a group of comic actors.

Recalling the beginning of her show, Chaplain said the act has its roots “in a classroom commission in 2003 about a woman being cheated by a man and avenging the betrayal”.

“Years ago, I came across a guy Paul Zaloom, a comic puppeteer and actor (and television presenter), who illustrated with objects he made into puppets. He was a bit of inspiration,” she said.

She has also worked for 24 years as a “Hospital Clown” for the Big Apple Circus in the US to “bring joy to ailing children in hospitals”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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