Arts & Events

Six Characters Chasing an Author

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday August 24, 2011 - 09:38:00 AM
David A. Moss ponders a question in Q & A after his one-man play--"Cracked Clown"
Ted Friedman
David A. Moss ponders a question in Q & A after his one-man play--"Cracked Clown"

For David A. Moss's one-man play, "Cracked Clown," a work-in-progress staged last weekend at the performance studio at East Bay Media Center in Berkeley, Moss creates at least six characters who chase him around the stage for the entire 60 minute performance. The characters—mostly demons and one angel—seem to have him on the run, until the surprising ending. Caspar the Friendly Ghost, and G.I. Joe appear in cameos. 

The one-man show, for small performance-stage, was hilariously funny, hysterically sad, hopelessly tragic, and finally—hopeful. An over-flowing audience (50) boarded Moss's speeding train (a central metaphor) bound for oblivion. There were almost as many laughs as in a night-club performance. 

Moss, a former headlining night club comedian (D. Allen Moss), fighting alcohol and cocaine addiction seemed at war with his abusive family-abandoning alcoholic black father, his alcoholic white mother from Cleveland, and his abusive, white alcoholic stepfather. 

Depicting one of his drunken, drugged-out nightclub performance, Moss stalks off-stage, sneering, "Fuck you; good night; don't think I'm funny; it's my life." The comedian's love-hate affair with stand-up comedy and his determination to emerge as his own realized self is the canvas on which Moss paints. 

As Moss put it, in an intimate question-and-answer period after the show, "I was a stand-up" (comic), but my father didn't stand up. You have to be accountable for yourself and stop whining and blaming others." 

But in the show, the blame flies. In fast-paced, stiletto bits, Moss spares no one, especially not himself. "Did you think the audience didn't know you were drunk, David? 

You could smell it!" Or, "Okay, I fucked up childhood." 

As Moss roamed the stage like a graceful panther, crouching, dropping effortlessly to a cross-legged sitting position to play himself as a boy he seemed at first—demented. 

Moss called this technique, "obsession." As the play opened, the setting might have been a mad-house, for Moss has clearly been driven mad by his demons. 

He's sitting in a motel ("one and a half stars"), crawling the carpet and smoking a toe-nail which he mistakes for crack. His demons, including Casper, call him a loser, a "cracked clown." 

With no mike and one light, two chairs, table, and glass of tea Moss managed to transcend the limitations of the small room, using his voice and sweeping gestures. Moss' years as a night-club comic and actor were evident. 

Some of the imagery of the play runs so deep, you can get lost. A cocaine trip comes to life as a character. Moss as a boy becomes a toy and is locked in a drawer. As G.I. Joe, Moss learns to not like the men in his military unit. "They'll just die, anyway." 

Between plot developments, Moss had plenty of opportunities for comic riffs. "What if Jesus, drank too much of that wine," Moss muses, going into the basic what-if strategy of comedians, depicting a drunken Christ slurring his speech: "let's see, we have one loaf of bread and some fish." 

Religion and preachers, white and black, appear as hounding demons. "Everyone wants to love Jesus, but no one wants to die." Or, "spirituality is going to Hell, not praying about it." 

Now who was that demon-angel? A sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, who took an interest in boy David and played checkers with him. "Do you want to be black, David?" 

"No," the boy snaps. Moss is "half and half." "Okay," the teacher replies. "You can be red." 

Does an artist have to be troubled to create, Moss asks at some point, but shoots down the idea. Moss can't extricate himself from this cat's cradle. He's riffing on his troubled, comic's past, and that's what makes the play work. 

Most self destructive and abusive behavior stems from self-hatred," Moss says, trying to understand his father. 

"Why do blacks burn their own neighborhoods? I'll burn up to protest my childhood. Richard (Pryor) already did that." 

But Pryor is dead and Moss—Pryor's spiritual child—may be the next best thing. Arts and Entertainment will let you know where "Cracked Clown" plays next. 

Before Ted Friedman became the Planet's reporter on the South side, and before he was homeless he was an aspiring night-club comic where he M.C.ed for two weeks at S.F.'s Holy City Zoo. D. Allan Moss was already starring there.