CLOWNING AROUND WITH HEISENBERG: The Humanist Project’s “H.U.P.” at The Tank

hup5Yes, kids: Physics can be fun! New York City-based troupe The Humanist Project’s new devised play, now running at the Manhattan performance space The Tank, is named H.U.P.: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, AKA Quantum Fairy Tales. Part of the show’s inspiration comes from the well-established Heisenberg uncertainty principle, a 1927 theory by German physicist Werner Heisenberg which states that “The position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly at the same time– not even in theory”. If a piece inspired by quantum mechanics seems a bit too, shall we say, “sherious” for you, rest assured: This delightfully kooky science lesson is taught by a cast of four hard-working CLOWNS! The clowns are the no-nonsense Professor S. Pants (Andrew Borthwick-Leslie), the sexually restless Peena (Josephine Wilson), the pragmatic Francis (Michael F. Toomey), and the childlike clown-in-training Dean (Zach Libresco). Clowns can often be a polarizing phenomenon in movies, TV, and theater: People either love them or fear them. But even hard-core coulrophobes would find it hard to resist the daffy charms of this quartet. In addition to the titular exploration of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the show also is also an homage to the Theater of the Absurd. And when it gets absurd, it gets VERY absurd!  It’s also a modern-day parodical expose of just how creepy those Russian children’s fairy tales of yesteryear really were– although, admittedly, not much grimmer than the Brothers Grimm..

hup7hup6hup4Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle/Quantum Fairy Tales is done in the style of a vintage children’s live-action TV variety series, with one segment named “The Proffessor Explains It All (Probably)”. In this show, piano-playing Prof. S. Pants is trying to maintain order in a world which, as science has theorized, is patently disordered. His trio of protegees seem to be more interested in maintaining that hurly-burly via jokes, songs,  slapstick comedy, and the occasional word from their sponsors. Running concurrently with the educational fare is “Depressing Russian Fairy Tales”, which transports the cast to Siberia and finds the innocent Dean in the unexpected role of “Vasilisa”. For those of you who were not forced to read obscure world children’s stories in your “Gifted Student Program”, Vasilisa was a stock character in Russian fairy tales, including The Frog Princess and Vasilisa the Beautiful. In her stories, the character often rises in status from a peasant girl to royalty. Unlike other fairy tale heroines who wait to be rescued, Vasilisa (described as a proto-feminist by some) often accomplishes a series of tasks that help her defeat the villain of the story– and, in her own way, gives a nice “ебать тебя!” to the patriarchy at large. Vasilisa’s adventures come complete with disquietingly disturbing marionettes, masks, and an eventual face-to-face showdown with Baba Yaga herself. The circus-like climax of chaos finds the clown foursome trapped in a state of “quantum superposition”. How will they escape?

hup2For some generations, this show may bring back memories of the Sid and Marty Krofft creations (H.R.Pufnstuf, anyone?). As in the Krofft brothers’ universe, there are puppets and a hallucinogenic nature to some of the show’s segments, particularly when the lights go down.  Unlike those classic kiddie shows, there are a few four-letter words thrown in for good measure and more than a few naughty one-liners by the man-hungry Peena. All four performers are excellent in their zany stage antics, particularly Zach Libresco as the dim but lovable Dean, whose adorably endearing Mr. Bill voice and unwaveringly wide smile is a real crowd pleaser. What is the “deep meaning” behind the clown quartet’s metaphysical adventures? Friendship? Cats? Pizza? If the audience looks past the lovably low-budget set pieces (presumably, another homage to the kiddie shows of yesteryear…), the answer is there all along. And you didn’t even need to pass Physics in high school to figure it out…
hupThe Humanist Project’s H.U.P.: Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle AKA Quantum Fairy Tales continues through December 14th at The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, 1st Floor. Visit www.TheTankNYC.org for tickets and more information.

(Photos by Ariella Axelbank.)

You can watch the trailer for this show here.

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