The Happenstance Theater company has been clowning around for years, but unlike anything seen inside a circus tent. Instead, the Montgomery County-based six-member ensemble mixes broad physical comedy — think Lucille Ball or Charlie Chaplin — with a soupcon of satire and wit, music and dance.
“Our work combines physical comedy with poetic humor,” said Sabrina Mandell, who founded and co-directs the company with her husband Mark Jaster.
The couple, as well as company members Karen Hansen, Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Alex Vernon, all hail from Takoma Park or Rockville. Their world, however, revolves around creating productions that transcend time and place.
Next up is “Barococo,” a show that takes sharp aim at the fashions and mores that once governed European aristocrats, set to run July 7 through 29 at D.C.’s Arena Stage as part of the 13th Annual Capital Fringe Festival.
A play on the words baroque and rococo, the title refers to the highly ornate music and arts that flourished in Europe during the 1600s to mid-1700s. It was an elite lifestyle, really, enjoyed by a tiny upper-crust who could devoted endless hours to fashion and over-the-top mannerisms – all while wearing towering wigs, no less.
“It’s a timely thing to revisit in the current climate,” Mandell said. “We’re looking at the obliviousness of the one percent through the eyes of a clown.”
The costuming alone can get you giggling. Think ladies in panniers, those wide bustles that made walking through a doorway something of an artform, and gentlemen in bright silk breeches and high heels.
The Happenstance Theater players get audiences to look past the pratfalls to something deeper.
“There’s music and dancing, swordplay and an operetta,” Mandell said. “But also, we’re examining what we humans do to maintain normalcy when we feel trapped.”
The winner of five Helen Hayes Awards, the ensemble has performed at venues ranging from the National Theatre to stages in Germany and Canada. Founded in 2006, they performed at the inaugural Fringe Festival. Their return this year marks a new era in the long-standing relationship, Mandell said.
“The Festival is producing our show this year, a new venture for the Festival. They’re expanding how they do things,” she said.
“Barococo” will be performed July 7 through 29 at Arena Stage’s The Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St SW, Washington, D.C. Tickets are $17 (General Admission plus a one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe Button); multi-show passes are available. Ticket sales are online at www.capitalfringe.org or by calling OvationTix, 866-811-4111.