Arts: Clowning Around at The Marsh Berkeley By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet

Tuesday December 06, 2005

Whether saddled with a case of the holiday blues or just tired of the usual Nutcracker-Christmas Carol-Child’s Christmas in Wales go-round and seeking something more offbeat for seasonal family entertainment, there’s a remedy: Send in the clowns. 

Or at least go see the two splendid ones performing matinees now at The Marsh in the Gaia Building in downtown Berkeley. 

Local wonder Unique Derique has joined forces with Moshe Cohen (Mr. Yoo Who) to stage Cirque Do Somethin’, a two-ring circus that really does have something for everybody. 

But what particularly makes it seasonal is the special way both clowns work with the younger members of the audience. “Christmas Is For Kids” has become one of the biggest cliches of a cliche-ridden holiday season. Derique and Cohen really make it that way, and give the flip side of that old, common coin new meaning: The best way to spend the holidays is to see it through a child’s eyes. 

Whether extracting a kid from the audience as a laughing subject for a film shoot of a campy fashion catwalk strut, or reacting to the sound of laughter of his friends watching their buddy cavort onstage, or wading into that same crowd to high-five a sheaf of young hands with triple-jointed slaps and rubber fingers, these two ticklers of funny bones fan up giggles into a pandemic of laughter, and soon the whole theater’s the same age, carefree and enjoying the barely controlled silliness together. 

There are quieter moments among the hysterical ones. In particular, Mr. Yoo Who does an eloquent flamenco show, beginning with arabesques strummed out on a ukulele slipped from a violin case, proceeding through shooing off flamboyant Derique in a tutu trying to steal a turn. Then, with rose firmly in teeth, the maestro’s sensitive hands trace the air in distraction as his feet lift him up into eloquent statuesque poses too exquisitely funny to break out laughing at. It’s the particular type of stage poetry that only the best of pantomimes can fall back on, the kind of timeless thing the silent film comedians performed on celluloid. 

There’s little dialogue—in fact, practically none. A few funny sounds, some nonsense talk we somehow catch onto, and asides to the audience in low-key, clipped cartoon voices, otherwise, just the obtuse taped coaching instructions to Unique Derique’s wake-up “Climb to the Top” yoga exercises that has him dressing out of a briefcase and twisting himself into a very successful pretzel. 

The two clowns have very different styles, and one of the pleasures of the afternoon is to watch how they patch it all together, beginning with a soft-shoe as they pile out of the sagging pink canvas of a tired, stylized pink circus tent panel, in moves that never clash, just bounce off each other.  

There’s plenty of acrobatics and a lot of juggling, from Cohen’s floating colored plastic bags, like fantastic capas, in his flamenco number, to the culminating chase: Unique Derique on a towering unicycle pursued by a helmeted Mr. Yoo Who riding low on a truncated two-wheeler, as they frantically toss spinning clubs to each other, back and forth. 

Their musical inventions, together and apart, are marvelous. Derique is famous for teaching and performing the Hambone body-slapping rhythms originally developed by slaves forbidden instruments to play, and Cohen can syncopate his spare frame right alongside the lightning-palmed master. 

Side by side, these two characters are an unlikely pair. Derique is both sleek and flashy with outsized glasses while Mr. Yoo Who resembles the late Prof. Irwin Corey with twin wispy sidelocks swinging in counterpoint with the tails of his tuxedo. Both command the stage and bring everybody on to it with them by coming down and joining the audience. 

Whether acting out as klutzes, leaping up like super heroes, playing the beloved entertainer blowing kisses to the crowd or striking a classic pose with mock dignity, these two entertainers go on with the show, a show that becomes pure play—and so satisfies and refreshes everybody who sees it, invited to play along too. 


Moshe Cohen and Unique Derique perform Cirque Do Somethin’ at The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way. Tickets: $10-$15. For more information, call (800) 838-3006, or see www.themarsh.org.›