Friday, November 27, 2009

Fully Committed

Matt K. Miller is a wonderfully talented actor. After having watched him play Shakespeare (set in the old West!), Scrooge, Tartuffe and his hastily written retrospective of his own life - a last-minute substitute for 'Noises Off' last season, when finances prevented Sacramento Theater Company from presenting the larger work - I'm convinced the versatile Miller could do anything.

In Becky Mode's one-act play, 'Fully Committed,' which just opened at STC, he not only can do anything, he does everything.

In an era when TV shows such as 'Top Chef,' 'Iron Chef' and 'Restaurant Wars' have ignited an interest in haute cuisine and posh restaurants, this timely piece perhaps tells us more than we really want to know about what goes on behind the scenes at some of the country's top restaurants.

STC's small Pollock Theater provides the opportunity for a more intimate setting, and the lights come up on a bare stage. At one side is an intercom, which allows communication with the restaurant staff; the other side features a telephone with a direct line to the chef. The middle of the stage has a cluttered desk with a switchboard.

The walls are hung with bulletin boards, posters, notes and warnings. A file cabinet is close to a table littered with old coffee cups, paper plates and napkins. An opening at the back has steps that lead off stage.

Although the restaurant never is named, we know it must be one of the 'in' places, since reservations for dinner must be made months in advance.

(The play is based on playwright Mode's experiences while working at an upscale restaurant in the 1990s, though she assures her audience that these characters aren't based on real people.)

'Sam' arrives as all the machines are ringing. He's overwhelmed and waiting for his co-worker Bob to join him, then learns that Bob's car has broken down and is stuck pending the arrival of a tow truck. This leaves Sam to handle all the calls, complaints, demands and more, and we're off and running for the next 90 minutes.

Unlike shows such as 'Greater Tuna,' where characters are created by quick costume changes, Miller does it all with body language and tone of voice: from the acerbic chef to the hyperdramatic 'Mrs. Sebag'; to the French maitre d' who refuses to take a call from a customer because 'she's so ugly'; to the deliciously gay Brice, from Naomi Campbell's office, with a list of ridiculous demands for her party of 15.

Along the way, we also learn bits about Sam's own history through conversations with his brother and the lonely father who hopes Sam can get Christmas off and be home, so they can celebrate together. We also learn that Sam is a struggling, would-be actor waiting for a call-back from his agent's office, regarding a recent audition.

Every single personality change is accomplished flawlessly, sometimes in the blink of an eye, with never a noticeable glitch. Much of the time, Miller runs from one side of the stage to the other, answering the staff in the front of the house, and then the chef, and then back to the reservation phone.

Miller first performed this tour de force back in 2002, when it was directed by Glenn Casale. Much of Casale's direction remains for the 2009 production, with additional direction by Gary Alan Wright.

As the 90-minute show progresses, Sam begins to develop a spine, and to appreciate his own worth: a logical transition, given the kinds of things he has heaped upon him.

By the end of the show, the audience is breathless from the relentless pace. One can only imagine how Miller must feel.

This is should-not-be-missed theater.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Nutcracker (Feature article)

Ask most Davis folks about 'The Nutcracker,' and they'll probably assume you're discussing the 'Davis Children's Nutcracker': the city-run extravaganza that offers some 200 children an opportunity to rehearse and perform something that vaguely resembles Tchaikovsky's fairy-tale ballet.

Very few people will wonder if you're actually talking about the Mikhail Baryshnikov version of the classic ballet, presented by the students of Hanneke Lohse each year on the weekend following Thanksgiving, even though this also has been a Davis tradition for more than 20 years.

This year's production will take place Friday through Sunday at the Veterans' Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St., Davis. Curtain times are 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, at $12, are available in advance at the Davis Art Center. For additional information, call (530) 756-4100.

'It's too bad people don't realize how high a level we have here,' Lohse said. 'The kids have so much pride in it.'

The kids aren't the only ones who have 'much pride.' Lohse glows as she talks about her ballet company and about her productions.

'They all become my kids,' she said, as she recalled dancers, current and past, who've been with her for years. Some return either to dance or to bring their children for lessons, or just to see how the company has grown over the years.

Lohse knows her dancers well, and has taken on the role of Mother Confessor to more than a few of them over the years, significantly altering the lives of many. ('She's Dr. Hanneke,' joked husband Gary Lohse.)

But Lohse's 'Nutcracker production,' featuring as many as 65 dancers, isn't limited to children, although she'll start them as young as age 4.

'She's had 80-year-old dancers in 'The Nutcracker,' ' Gary Lohse continued. He builds sets, schleps costumes, buys equipment and beams with pride when he watches his wife talk about her ballets.

'I have a guy who's an Italian or French professor at Sacramento State University, who dances in it,' Hanneke said.

'There's a professor of statistics at UC Davis. One guy used to be a professional dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. One guy drives in from Roseville to dance with us.'

She also teaches a class for adult women, some of whom used to be dancers.

'These women are so gung ho about ballet that they're on pointe shoes. Some of them had been on pointe when they were younger, but had bad experiences and now are having great experiences.'

This year, she's particularly excited about a former student, 29-year-old Tim Nutter ('He's awesome!'), who is returning to dance the lead role with Sarah Bolander ('She's getting quite a following.') and Kaitlin Coppinger.

In addition to the more professional dancers, Lohse involves the parents of her younger children on stage. She pointed them out as we watched a videotape of the production.

'See how little these guys are? But they know exactly what they're doing. The thing that's so neat is that these parents are actually guardians of the little kids. You can see how the parents are actively guarding the children, so these kids are getting the best experience.

'Some of them are only 4 years old, but they know exactly what they're doing. These are all people who aren't dancers. Some just want to be in it.'

Lohse is the ballet company. When she first began to teach ballet at the Davis Art Center, she asked parents to make costumes. The quality varied greatly; some parents, who couldn't sew, had to find someone else to make the costumes.

Lohse eventually decided that she could sew, and it would be easier and more convenient if she just made all the costumes herself, with the help of some parents also comfortable with needle and thread.

'We go to fabric discount store,' Lohse said, 'buy 60 yards of fabric and make all the costumes. They're all uniform. I design and cut the patterns, and some of the moms sit at sewing machines with sergers, so they're done in no time.

'The serger is the race car of sewing machines!'

Lohse has costumes for five different ballets. When I asked where she stores that many costumes, Gary chimed in: 'We have two shipping containers, 8 feet wide by 20 feet long. The costumes are double-hung.'

OK, but where do you store two huge shipping containers?

Gary explained that they lived on five acres in unincorporated Solano County, and have plenty of land on which to store the containers.

'She's a real factory,' he said.

'I sometimes say I'm going to retire tomorrow,' Hanneke said. 'That's when I'm tired. And then I'm away from it for 10 days, and I can't wait until I get back to the kids. We have a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I'm tired, I disappear. I go to North Carolina and just sit in the woods and read.

'Sometimes I want to retire, because I learned how to spin and weave and I love to do things with my hands, but then I miss the kids: the little kids and the older kids.

'I even love the adults.'

It's clear that 'retirement' isn't in the foreseeable future for this human dynamo. It's also clear that Hanneke Lohse's 'Nutcracker' may be one of the best-kept secrets in Davis.

For those seeking a professional-quality 'Nutcracker' this season - and those who would prefer not to pay the higher prices found in San Francisco or Sacramento - it isn't necessary to look any farther than your own back yard.

That's where you'll find this first-rate, professional version of 'The Nutcracker.'

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


It's amazing how much really bad stuff happens in theater that nobody notices because of the pretty music.

Davis Musical Theatre Company opened Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Carousel' on Friday, and I must have been listening more closely this time: I was appalled by the line, 'Can someone hit you really hard, but you hardly feel it at all?'

This from the daughter who has just been slapped by her ghost-dad, reminding her mother of the slap she had received from her husband, before his death. If the tunes are memorable and the clambake fun, we don't notice that the authors have just made spousal and child abuse somehow 'romantic.'

But that's neither here nor there in reviewing DMTC's delightful production, directed and choreographed by Jan Isaacson.

Matt Provencal plays Billy Bigelow, a ne'er-do-well carnival barker who falls in love with Julie Jordan (Karina Summers), a local factory worker. Provencal is a newcomer to DMTC, and he's quite a find. He has a wonderful voice, and he partners well with Summers, a DMTC veteran.

Billy's soliloquy, pondering the monumental prospect of becoming a father, is particularly good.

Summers gives Julie a quiet, gentle, loving presence that carries her from infatuation with Billy, despite his abusive treatment of her, to raising his daughter as a single parent following his death.

The rapid development of the relationship between Billy and Julie shines a spotlight on how different things were in turn-of-the-20th century America, where girls were 'loose' if they even talked with a fella without a friend around to chaperone.

Both Billy and Julie lose their jobs over an innocent conversation, and end up getting married instead. Go figure!

Julie's friend, Carrie Pipperidge, is played by Eimi Stokes: just as adorable and endearing as she could be. Carrie has her cap set on Mr. Snow (Jason Hammond), and the two go on to marry and have seven little Snows. Stokes lights up the stage whenever she appears, and her energy is infectious.

Hammond's Mr. Snow is suitably pompous and quietly domineering in his relationship with Carrie, and he makes an absolutely perfect 19th century head of the household.

Deborah Douglas Hammond, whose character seemed somehow out of place in an earlier DMTC production of 'The Cat in the Hat,' comes into her own as the motherly Nettie, who takes Julie under her wing following Billy's death. Hammond sings the showstopping 'You'll Never Walk Alone,' and does so beautifully.

Lydia Smith is a lovely Louise, Billy's 15-year-old daughter, whom we first meet dancing on the beach in a beautiful ballet number choreographed by Isaacson. Louise is a combination of Julie's gentle soul and Billy's spunk, and Smith brings her to life quite convincingly.

Nathan Mack is more slimy than menacing as Jigger, the guy who convinces Billy to rob the mill owner, to get money for the baby Billy has just discovered he has fathered.

Marguerite Morris plays Mrs. Mullins, who owns the carousel for which Billy works. Isaacson has written additional dialogue for the character, which brings her relationship with Billy full circle, and is a nice addition to the script. Morris, without a song to sing in this show, embodies the crusty Mullins and does a nice job with her.

Jean Henderson has created a beautiful array of costumes, all nicely befitting the era. I particularly liked the soft, muted colors and textures she used for Julie, and the contrast with the bold, bright colors and crisp textures for Carrie, visually expressing the personalities of each.

Jen Berry's scenic design works well, and includes a working carousel for the opening scene. There's also a particularly nice dock scene, as everyone gets ready for the first clambake of the season.

At a bit over three hours, this is a long show, but it's filled with familiar tunes like 'If I Loved You' and 'June Is Busting Out All Over,' in addition to 'You'll Never Walk Alone.'

If you concentrate on the music, the dancing, the costumes and the clambake - and overlook the plot's negative parts - 'Carousel' makes for an enjoyable evening.

MacBeth (review)

It's one thing to put on an outdoor production on a mid-summer night's evening, surrounded by tall redwood trees and warm breezes, with the audience sitting on folding chairs.

It's quite another thing to put on an outdoor production as winter approaches, when the audience must sit on hard, cold, uncomfortable concrete steps. For three hours.

Under those circumstances, not even a performance by Lawrence Olivier could make the evening entirely pleasant.

Studio 301's production of 'Macbeth' opened last weekend at the 'Deathstar,' otherwise known as the courtyard of the Social Sciences and Humanities building, across the road from the ATMs at the Memorial Union. The company provided blankets for those who had not thought to bring them, but even that wasn't enough.

I don't know when I've been so uncomfortable at a theatrical production, although I was bundled up and had brought both a blanket and a pillow to sit on.

Despite the cold and discomfort, this 'Macbeth' is a good production, with some very good performances, some nice effects and a few bizarre things.

And, truth to tell, if we wanted to experience the ambiance of a 17th century Scottish castle, I suppose sitting and shivering in the Deathstar was the best way to do it!

Directors Gia Battista and Steph Hankinson describe their play, in the program notes, as 'a call for awareness. We are living in a post-modern time, but we do not know if we have already reached the beginning of the end, if evil has already corrupted our society. This play is a spectacle, warning of what we are possibly heading toward.

'The way we present this 'horrible imagining' is by offering a sickeningly beautiful aesthetic. The hard lines of the building are juxtaposed with soft fabric, flowing movements with staccato fights.'

The action begins with the meeting of the three witches, 'the embodiment of the play's theme.' These witches - Andrea Guidry, Lauren Cole Norton and Ashley Bargenquast - are unlike witches you may have seen in other productions of 'The Scottish Play.'

For one thing, they're on stage throughout the entire play: perched high above the courtyard, reacting to - perhaps guiding? - the actions below. But their spasmodic, jerky movements take a lot of getting used to. The directors explain that this was inspired by a Japanese movement style called butoh, a style created to express the trauma of war, taboo social topics and darkness within the human spirit.

The decision to present the play in ambiguous modern dress, giving no indication as to the era, leaves the viewer to decide whether this is today, some time in the recent past, or perhaps some time in the future.

Costume designer Kate Walton, assisted by Julie Asperger, pulled the costumes together beautifully. Black is the dominant color, with brilliant red accents for Macbeth, starting slowly with red stripes on his shoes, then a red shirt for battle. Lady Macbeth's striking red evening gown is a perfect contrast to the black of those around her.

Kevin Ganger plays Macbeth, the anguished general of the Scottish army, whose blind ambition - aided by his treacherous wife (Cody Messick) - drives him to murder the good queen (Sarah Cohen). This is a tough role to pull off, because of the intensity of Macbeth's anger, fear and sorrow. The role could easily be overly dramatized, but Ganger plays it with controlled intensity.

The sweetness of Messick's appearance is quickly revealed as a facade, as we watch her goad Macbeth into the murder of the queen, and then succumb to madness as guilt over their actions begin to haunt her.

Cohen gives the queen a genuine sense of nobility. We see instantly that she is beloved by her subjects, which makes her eventual murder all the more tragic. Cohen later appears as Hecate, and brings the same kind of nobility (albeit negative) to the character of the head witch.

Michael Lutheran gives an intense performance as Macduff, particularly when he learns of his family's murder. Brother David Lutheran brings a note of lightness to his outstanding physical comedic role as the porter. Although a small role, he owns it.

Kris Ide's performance as the noble Banquo is good, but perhaps even better as he joins the witches and creates the specter of his own ghost, seen only by Macbeth.

A lot of blood was spilled in the Deathstar, as everyone who dies does so with an impressive display of blood. That said, the character who got stabbed on the right side and bled on the left side stretched credulity a bit.

All told, though, this 'Macbeth' is very good. I just wish it hadn't been so darn cold!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MacBeth (feature article)

In the normal course of events, a director decides on a show, then works with a set designer to bring this vision of the production to life.

For those who work on a university campus, things can be much easier.

Studio 301, a student-run drama organization, produced 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' last year. Rather than find and decorate a stage, the company mounted the production in the Arboretum: an actual forest for the play's forest setting.

Such decisions cut production costs considerably.

This year, directors Stephanie Hankinson and Gia Batista knew they wanted to direct 'a' play, but weren't sure which one. An idea began to form when they started looking around the UC Davis Social Sciences and Humanities Building. It's commonly known as the 'Death Star' because of its outwardly shiny metallic appearance, as well as the fact that architecturally it's such a maze.

The glassed-in catwalk between the two center wings just begs for a lightsaber duel.

Hankinson and Batista didn't see outer space; they saw a castle, and immediately decided that Studio 301's next production should be 'Macbeth.' They're using the entire building, placing the witches on a balcony overlooking the action throughout the play, and employing the tower for sword fights.

The tall concrete walls are excellent screens for special effects, and corridors that lead off the main 'stage' area are ideal for echo-y sounds of horror.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 6 p.m. Sunday; 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21; and 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22.

The suggested donation at the gate will be $10 general, $9 students. For additional information, call (818) 251-6654.

Michael Lutheran, who plays MacDuff, is delighted with the location. He feels that it both works beautifully as a castle, and also conveys Macbeth's descent into madness.

'This building is so confusing, people get lost in it all the time,' Lutheran said, 'so it kind of represents Macbeth's state of mind.'

Setting a play 'in' an outside venue that is part of a working university building presents interesting situations.

'We get people passing through all the time,' Lutheran laughed. 'We'll be in the middle of an intense scene or sword fight, and all of a sudden a class gets out and we have to hold.'

Cawing crows fly overhead at dusk, and the sound of campus bells must be dealt with. The directors don't feel these will be serious problems; they may, in fact, add to the ambiance.

The production also worked with instructors skilled in the Asian hakido style of combat, which should add an extra layer of excitement to the fight scenes.

Cody Messick is finding it a challenge to play Lady Macbeth.

'I've grown up with Shakespeare, because my dad has been the artistic director of the Kern County Shakespeare Festival for 25 years. But I'm usually cast as the sort of sweeter, straight character, so it's different and really challenging to play such an evil character.'

Even bad characters have their good side, though, Messick believes.

'I'm trying to find sympathy and the humanity in this woman, who really is hard to relate to, because she gives herself over to evil. She devotes herself to this murder and all this horrible stuff, but it's beautiful to try to find those places that actually come from pain, and a deep love for her husband.'

Sarah Cohen, who cut her teeth on Shakespeare back in 1994, when she played Antonio in Acme Theater's 'Twelfth Night,' is playing Duncan. The directors felt that making the ruler a woman adds another layer to the production.

'It actually makes it interesting, killing a queen, because it would be Lady Macbeth who would be the next queen,' Batista said.

'And Lady Macbeth actually incites the murder,' Hankinson added, 'so what does it mean to kill a queen, if she's going to be queen next?'

Cohen, who jokes that playing a queen fits her body type better than playing the role of a king, graduated from MIT in 2000 and returned to Davis to direct a Shakespeare play. She has remained on campus ever since, working in Disability Services.

Hankinson feels that this is one of the many good things about Studio 301: It welcomes alumni and faculty, as well as students.

'We have a really wide array: two majors, several minors in theater and people who have graduated from the theater department. It's a pretty good mix.'

Studio 301 has been around, in different forms, for about 15 years. It started in Sacramento as an independent theater company, with a couple of Davis students involved. More Davis folks got involved, and eventually the group moved to the UCD campus and was 'legitimized' by the powers that be.

These days, Studio 301 is a UC Davis club and is run completely by students.

'We do all our fundraising,' Hankinson said.

The group has been on campus for 12 years, with a few breaks here and there.

'Now we have a couple of really solid years under our belts, and I think it can be maintained,' Hankinson said.

While watching these actors rehearse, I note a high degree of energy and enthusiasm. This should bode well for a good production.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spring Awakening

How many cliche bad adolescent things can you fit into two plus hours of “Spring Awakening,” this week’s Broadway Series offering at the Sacramento Community Center.

Fill a stage with hormone raging teenagers (and to make it even worse, set them in repressive Germany of the 1890s, where corporal punishment is the answer to every parental or educational problem and “communication” had not been invented yet). To this mix add:

* a mom who won’t explain the facts of life to her daughter (you can see where THAT is going to go, right?)
* failure
* masturbation
* sadism and masochism
* suicide
* homosexuality
* incest
* partial (or perhaps only questionable) nudity
* simulated premarital sex – live, on stage
* pregnancy (of course)
* abortion
* reform school
* a finale that could have been predicted at the end of Act 1

and, for ducks toss in a whole song, the title of which is a word that can’t be printed in a family newspaper, complete with the obscene gestures that go along with it.

This may give you a hint as to why the theater was not very full, and why so many people left at intermission.

HOWEVER, stick with me here.

Surprisingly, it was not as bad as I expected and on some level I actually kinda sorta liked it. Not a lot, but a little.

“Broadway’s most talked about musical,” with book and lyrics by Steven Sater (based on the play by Frank Wedekind) and music by Duncan Sheik won 8 Tony awards (out of eleven nominations) in 2007 and has acquired a cult following. It just may not be the right fit for Sacramento audiences.

There is a cast of 13 performers, with 4 more who sit on stage and add to the vocal ensemble pieces. Most are quite good in their roles, with special mention made of Jake Epstein as the handsome hero, Melchior, Taylor Trensch as the geeky Moritz (with an impossibly tall hair do that looked like a carefully manacured lawn), and Christy Altomare as the heroine, Wendla. I also particularly liked Kimiko Glenn as Thea, not because she did anything unusual, but just because she was so darn cute.

Angela Reed is “The adult woman,” playing several different characters and Jon Wojda is “The adult man,” similarly playing several different characters.

This is not a “book show,” but it does manage somehow to get from A to Z, making many, many stops along the way for different plot elements.

While it’s a bit of a jolt to watch, for example, a room full of 19th century German students reciting Latin, and then break into very modern rock type music, you make that mental adjustment quickly. While there is enough rock in the music to satisfy the young in the crowd, surprisingly most of the music, while unforgettable, is soft and melodic.

Some have an incredible intensity, like “The Dark I Know So Well,” wherein Ilsa (Steffid) describes the attentions of her father

I don’t scream, though I know it’s wrong
I just play along
I lie there and breathe
Lie there and breathe

The masturbation song (its real name is another word you can’t print in a family newspaper) was actually kind of funny, in an offensive sort of way:

She said, “Give me that hand, please, and the itch you can’t control.
Let me teach you how to handle all the sadness in your soul.
[insert lyrics here better not printed]
She said, “Love may make you blind, kid, but I wouldn’t mind at all.”

I wondered about the reaction of all those late middle aged subscribers in the audience...the couple next to me did not come back after intermission.

The set is open with seating along the sides of the stage, for members of the audience and along the back for the eight piece band. The walls hint at a gothic building which can be either a schoolroom, a church, or a cemetery–and is, at one time or another, each one of those settings.

Lighting by Kevin Adams is outstanding, with angry neon red lights for the most intense moments, and beautiful blue orbs for gentle, loving ones.

For anybody who has struggled to get through the sexual frustrations of adolescence...and perhaps for any adult who has to deal with a teenager struggling to get through adolescence...there will be lots of moments with which to identify. But this is not a show that is going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Clowning Around (feature article)

Paul Del Bene didn't dream of running away to join the circus, but - thanks to a convenient scholarship - that's what he eventually did.

And he has been clowning around now for nearly 30 years.

Through his generosity, local adults and children have an opportunity to see his talents on display, during a benefit performance for Davis Parent Nursery School Friday and Saturday evening at the Veterans' Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St., Davis. Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m., and the show will begin at about 7 p.m.

Tickets - $18 general, $15 students and seniors, $12 children - are available at The Naturalist, 605 Second St. For additional information, call (530) 410-0043.

Although he never was the class clown in school or at home, Del Bene always was physically active; he hoped to get into college on a soccer scholarship. But since he also had done theater for many years, starting with his first professional role in 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' at age 14, he also applied for a theater scholarship.

He was, in fact, offered a soccer scholarship ... but he also received a theater scholarship, which paid more. He therefore attended The Union Institute in Ohio, as a theater major.

Slowly, over time, Del Bene realized that comic roles were better for him, although he did a lot of character work as well.

He went to the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey's Clown College, and graduated at the top of his class, then worked for them for a year in Japan.

'That's when I knew that I really liked clowning,' he said.

The next step took him to Europe, to study and determine what fit best in terms of performing. Olaf, the character he created, comes out of the Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin/Jacques Tati school of clowning: an Everyman character to whom anyone can relate.

'The turning point was when I worked with a clown professor by the name of Pierre Byland, in Switzerland,' Del Bene said. 'That's when something clicked for me, in terms of the simplicity of the character. If you're kind of still and wait long enough, it'll become clear what you need to do, with the public and with your own character.

'My job, in a sense, is not to make you laugh; it's to understand the situation that I'm in. Then, at the moment that we all need to realize where it needs to go next, that will be funny.

'And that takes a lot of patience.'

He warmed to his subject.

'I don't like clowns or comedy that are aggressive or foul. My job as a clown is to be a story teller. It's my profession to continue that story in whatever way I can: in a way that invites people to share it, not that you've been hit over the head with an idea.'

Most Del Bene's work has been in theaters and variety shows: the type of modern vaudeville that's still alive in Germany. For three and a half years, he worked with a professional theater company in Switzerland. He left that job to return to the United States with his wife Gail and their children Matsue and Luca, to be closer to Gail's mother, Yoshi Khyos.

'Right now, I don't have full-time work as a performer or a physical comedian,' he said. 'But I supported my family for many years in Europe. There is a community called the 'Klein Kunst Community' (Small Arts Community), which is a collection of theaters that seat anywhere from 200 to about 550, but it's all professional theater.

'In Europe, you have community theater, you have the professional small theaters, then you have the universities and then you have the larger concert places. Here, there's this middle gap for people who are at the next level above community theater.

'The larger market for what I do, at least in the States, is private events and private parties.'

Del Bene works as a comic waiter, helping to lighten the mood.

'It's a very subtle form of engaging people as an ice breaker.'

To fill his days and support the family, Del Bene works part time as director of advancement for The Solving Diabetes Project, a medical foundation raising money for research regarding type I diabetes.

'People ask how I can do that, because they think it's so different from theater. But it's basically just storytelling. The foundation supports something I believe in. When I talk about it, I get excited about it.

'I'd love to be a full-time salaried clown again, but how is that going to happen, and how do you keep going without losing sight of who you are and what you do?

'That's hard right now, with all the financial stuff going down.'

Meanwhile, Del Bene will put his considerable talents to good use, raising money for an excellent cause.

And then, a week later, he'll be off to France for another three-week gig on the European vaudeville stage.