“The Secret Paris Project” is an unusual experience. Even the show’s description cannot adequately explain the world to which the audience is pulled.
“A queer clown show devised with an ensemble of eight women at the Secret Theatre,” is how the palm card reads.
The performance abstractly analyzes queer history and uses photographs taken by Hungarian artist Brassai.
He frequently photographed lesbian couples and other dwellers of the Parisian underground clubs in the 1930s.
Until the 1970s, many of his pictures were banned from public showing.
But even knowing that, “The Secret Paris Project” seems to be more than a soapbox for Clare Hammoor, the show’s creator, to step upon.
It is a beautiful and analytical excavation of an oft-neglected part of history.
Stepping into the black-box theater, it becomes clear to spectators that these clowns are unlike any other.
The set is about as basic as it gets. The floor is painted with gray stripes and the matching gray lights and makeshift chandelier made of pipes and old-fashioned bulbs create a somber yet antique feel almost immediately.
Parisian belter Edith Piaf’s records play gently in the background and the subtle fog that hangs in the air makes the stage almost dreamlike.
The performance is made up of a series of silent vignettes starring Parisian-influenced clowns. Some are funny, others disturbing; and a few are difficult to explain.
Because “The Secret Paris Project” is practically silent — aside from the magnificent percussion created with found sounds and children’s instruments played by Abby Fisher— the actors must rely on their physicality to maintain the audience’s interest.
Each woman has her strengths — Lauren Durdach can pull her face every which way, Johana Barral’s movement across the stage is superb and Corrie Blissit has an extraordinarily comedic presence — but they all blend together in such a way that there is no single standout.
It is difficult to explain or justify what is so great about “The Secret Paris Project” since each vignette is so reliant on the lighting, sound and props. But perhaps that is what makes the performance so special; you have to see it to truly understand it.
Marjorie Conn sobbing over melting ice while the rest of the cast climbs on top of chairs, holding their wet palms to the audience’s faces as if to say “What are you going to do about this? Can’t you see what is happening?”
It seems strange, and it was — most of the audience exchanged glances during this scene and smiled uncomfortably as the clowns invaded their personal space — but the strangeness made the actors’ performances that much more enticing.
Even the final scene, which ends with the ensemble laying on their backs as happy music from the 1930s chimes in, is strange
Fisher had to lead the audience in applause as most people were unsure if the show had in fact concluded.
“The Secret Paris Project” has a limited run, only two weekends, which is unfortunate. One hopes there will be more opportunities in the future for Hammoor to share his creation with more people.
While the show does involve clowns, it is not meant for children. There are a few sexual references made and Conn walks across the stage completely naked at one point — though that particular scene doesn’t appear to sexualize the female form. If you are uncomfortable with your children taking in these images, it may be best to leave them home with a sitter.
“The Secret Paris Project”
When: April 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Queens Secret Theatre, 44-02 23 St., LIC
Tickets: $9, secrettheatre.com