Clownzilla: A Love Story

The art of classic whiteface clowning is preserved by the U.C. Irvine-based California Commedia Troupe, Clownzilla, whose artistic director, Eli Simon, teaches acting at the university. In their first show, directed by Simon, the quintet of performers delivers a lighthearted look at the pronounced differences between the cool "in" hipsters and their awkward "out" counterparts. Framed as a silent film, complete with teens-style supertitles, this whirlwind of wordless clowning opens with the birth of baby girl clown Hope (Betsy Mugavero) and baby boy clown Toots (Adrian Alita). Both are painfully shy — especially Toots, who grows up to be a classic sad clown. Whether competing in a 100-yard dash, strutting onto the dance floor, or trying to win the "Clown High School" talent contest, their efforts to mesh with the in crowd of Prissy (Adrienne Mueller), Spot (Dane Svenningsen), and Mr. Pants (R.J. Romero) are a spectacular failure.

All five performers uphold the circus-clown tradition, proving expert in mugging, pratfalls, and sight gags. With his three-day stubble, sad expression, and slow-moving body, Alita seems a modern-day heir to Emmett Kelly. As his female counterpart, Mugavero has the baffled look of silent-film comic Harry Langdon. Along the lines of Rhea Perlman in her Cheers character, Carla, Mueller's comic persona is grounded in being sour and abrasive. Neither Romero nor Svenningsen carves a distinct persona, but Romero has hilarious bits involving lip-synching — one in which, dressed as a cowboy, he "sings" Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and the other as "Mr. Pants and his Singing Monkey" (a hand puppet). Puppets and stuffed animals show up frequently among the show's many props. The middle portion of this brief (70-minute) clown showcase features a raft of "guest clowns," with loony-funny bits from Elizabeth Graciano, Heraclio Pimentel Jr., Laura Simms, and Aysha Wax.

Presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company and the California Commedia Troupe at the Empire Theater, 202 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (Also Thu. 8 p.m. May 24). May 4-26. (714) 547-4688. www.rudeguerrilla.org.