The savage imagery in “Not Clown” is not recommended for the faint of heart. In this flashy but decidedly bizarre import by the Physical Plant Theater of Austin, Texas, a troupe of sadistic clowns kidnap an idealistic girl who admires their guerrilla theater and force her to witness the kinds of atrocities that would have the toughest Marine screaming for his mother. Taken as allegory, there’s an angry political message to be found in the stylized scenes of torture and self-mutilation. But the narrative is so convoluted and its presentation so tricked up that the point of the piece drains off with the blood.
Although there’s no way to know this without a program note, here’s what’s going on: A rich young woman named Linda Johns (Elizabeth Doss) has taken up the charitable cause of rehabilitating the reputation of clowns — a feared and despised minority in her unnamed city. Carried away by her romantic notion of these persecuted artists, the silly girl writes a silly play about their historical woes and recruits a ratty troupe of repatriated clowns to perform it.
Once the clowns take control of the show, something goes horribly wrong, and Linda becomes their prisoner in a nightmarish piece of homicidal vengeance. To be honest, the dialogue is so disjointed and the events so disorienting that it is unclear whether the clowns have actually turned on Linda, or whether they are just enacting past atrocities carried out by her father, the town’s chief inquisitor.
But if the message is unclear, the individual scenes of terror and torture have a shocking impact on the central nervous system.
To illustrate the punishments inflicted on politically active clowns (strung up on lampposts, dragged behind camels), one wretched fellow named Alfred (Josh Meyer) is all too realistically beaten, trussed up and half-drowned in a bucket of water. In one stylishly choreographed movement, a bevy of clowns turns their weapons on themselves, gouging out eyeballs and chopping off limbs in an orgy of self-mutilation.
Taken individually, not all of the clowns are as menacing as the lanky Agnes, a terrifying witch-like presence in Lee Eddy’s fiercely focused perf. But they are plenty scary in the collective, coming at you in bloody costumes and hideous fright wigs and screaming for vengeance.