by John Stoehr
OK, so the musical that has everyone buzzing this year is Monkey, about a monkey who's basically a jester, a fool, a trickster, a shape-shifter (he turns into a bee at one point) and who finds redemption and enlightenment, and who does so only by admitting to his own foolishness.
Then Amistad has a character called a trickster god, the kind that stirs the pot of human drama, even to the extent that he'll get his people into a situation where they'll be captured by slavers, smuggled the U.S., embroiled in a legal battle that's really a stand-in for an argument about the universal rights of man.
The cabaret theater company 1927 uses, in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, animation and live action to create an all-new kind of Theater of the Absurd, a natural forum for the fool. There's security in the knowledge that absurdist theater is merely an illusion, they say, but when that illusion appears to be real, we no longer feel secure. We have been tricked. It's funny, disturbing, even frightening. Moreover, one character is told that if she looked in mirror too long, she'd see a monkey.
And now we have Low Tide Hotel, a dreamy pastiche of nostalgic scenes inspired by the ocean, created by two inheritors of the fool's mantle. Sabrina Mandell is a clown by trade (the clown's a trickster, too, though perhaps a more benign one). Mark Jaster (only one letter off from being "jester"; yet more evidence to consider!) was once a teaching assistant of the late Marcel Marceau, the quintessential mime.