PuSh International Performing Arts Festival: L'Homme de Hus
What do you get when you take a clown away from the circus? That seems to be the question that Camille Boitel wanted to pose, if not to answer outright with L'Homme de Hus.
The premise of the one-man-show is simple: a chair, a performer, and an urge to face the audience. But that is as far as a concise summary can go. Over the course of the hour, what unfolds is a surreal display of circus philosophy as things fall apart, get put back together, and then spiral further into entropy; everything goes terribly, irrevocably wrong.
It is very difficult to describe something that can only be called choreographed chaos, and even that stretches too thin. How can I classify what it is that Boitel does? Is it a circus act? Avant-garde performance? Object theatre? He jolts across the stage in half dance, half paroxysm; where Boitel moves, chairs collapse, doors open, props sprawl across the stage with wild abandon. One sequence has him lying in the foreground across a towering pile of table legs, held down by three men dressed in black while opera music plays off to the side—an intensely affecting tableau in a performance that has me chuckling one minute and gasping the next. But still, I leave with so many questions.
What is it that we love so much about watching disaster? This is, quintessentially, schadenfreunde embodied. Is our conscience clearer when the disaster is choreographed and expected? What is so funny about a man out-of-time? When is a circus not a circus, and at what point does a performer become a clown? Most importantly, am I not entertained?
Existential uncertainty aside, I can speak authoritatively on that last question. I was, in fact, very entertained. The only thing I am utterly convinced of is Boitel's virtuosity; to make things appear as if they are out of place takes a meticulous level of skill and practice. Boitel tumbles acrobatically against an invisible, seemingly malevolent force, every motion expertly (and paradoxically) fragile, powerful, bursting with tension. For all that it is and isn't, L'Homme de Hus is a massive, raucous endeavor that is executed with delightful rhythm and poetry.