Ever since an ambitious Arlington couple decided to craft a “St. Patrick’s Day clown service” out of a whim — and a friend who happens to have a penchant for clowning — the “Little Lad” clown car has been buzzing around the area.
Mary Marken, a divorced stay-at-home mom who’s always had a taste for the macabre, describes the Little Lad as “a performance art play . . . a cabaret-slash-clown show . . . a freak show, a puppet show, a cabaret, a night at your house, a cabaret at a friend’s house, a play at a school.” A former speech therapist who met Kathy Kay (also divorced) in 2009, Marken was a little tentative about the venture. “I wasn’t sure if the idea would really take off,” she said. “But it has!”
Performances in Arlington and Arlington Heights (near Long Island) have grown from six to 10 people. In that time, Marken expanded the label to stretch to mixed-media “masques,” a term she coined to describe four of Kay’s New York City-based creations: an 11-foot-high tower of hanging black umbrellas, an elevated puppet show, a life-size replica of a 17th-century flying saucer, and a “monster masque” that includes the actual Lexy, a knife-wielding woman with a prosthetic elbow.
Unsure whether audiences would attend, but unconcerned, Marken signed up as a Little Lad performer herself, and found her turf quickly: clowning. “In the Army, I was the clown,” she said. “I directed the theater troupe. Now I’m performing as a clown.”
But clowning isn’t for everyone, Marken notes, pointing out that there are a number of shows for adults and children. She prefers the latter. “I started them out as an adult,” she said. “I thought they’d get [older] and they didn’t.” She also, she says, sees them as a way to introduce kids to art, philosophy, and feminist social issues, explaining that her show, called “Future Shock,” features clowns who suffer breakdowns. The third show of the series, “Identity Recall,” will explore “corporate corporate mascots” in a “weight-loss-tactic clown show,” according to her website.
Marken began programming around March, with performances Friday and Saturday nights, which begin around 9 p.m. Don’t be surprised if some of her shows, like Tuesday’s performance of “Dr. Edinsky,” a “Super Stanislavsky light opera,” pop up elsewhere. She’s also planning to perform at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Arlington Depot, in August, and at a group show at U Street’s Prisster Gallery next year. While Marken has always loved clowning, she hadn’t planned to do a show out of the blue.
“I had never met Kathy Kay before I moved to Arlington,” she said. “I knew little about clowning, actually, at all. What seemed fun to me was just kind of making something up and doing it with someone else, whether it was other clowns or friends I knew who have also thought I was silly.” But soon, Marken found that those little truths from behind that façade were revealing themselves, sometimes in some unexpected ways.
“I think some of my clown moments have been a bit sad, and I can say that with a lot of sincerity,” she said. “But, I don’t know, it’s kind of fun.”