There are few conversations in our society that are more dreaded or anxiety-inducing than the "birds and the bees" talk. But Tribe of Fools’s Philly Theatre Week offering, Clown Sex Ed, leans into the absurdity and makes the uncomfortable uproariously funny. Even the most conservative folks among us might walk out with a skip in their step and a condom souvenir in their hand.
Born from the chaotic playland brains of Tara Demmy, Zachary Chiero, and Lexa Grace (my grad-school classmate), Clown Sex Ed follows two teen clowns as a host of grownups inundate them with the facts of life. Scenes alternate between our endearing clown heroes and their buffoonish adult counterparts in a mix of SNL-esque sketches, clown interludes, and movement theater.
Demmy and Chiero take on all of the roles during the 75-minute show, and their comedic stylings keep things buoyant throughout. The journey of the clowns tying it all together is the heart of Clown Sex Ed. Demmy’s clown first exploring her erogenous zones to the theme song from Stranger Things is adorably raunchy; I doubt that’s what the composers had in mind for their melody, but I think they’d be pleased nonetheless. It’s a solid night of comedy, but some scenes earn more laughs than others: a sex-ed class with two gym coaches, complete with a game of “STDodgeball,” is the winner of the day — but the pair’s turn as college guides at “Sex U,” where the dorms’ lube dispensers flow, is predictable and… well, a little flaccid.
Parents, coaches, nuns, and Gaga
Demmy and Chiero move swiftly and expertly between their clowns, a pair of Lady Gaga-loving nuns, gym coaches, cringeworthy parents, and more. It’s a marathon, but both Demmy and Chiero are unfailingly delightful and captivating.
Lexa Grace’s deft hand as director allows Demmy and Chiero to shine. She works in tandem with the two actors to shape the piece, and her influence disappears enough to let them do their thing. Aside from some clunky transitions, leaving the stage awkwardly static as actors change for the next scene, Grace’s direction is smooth.
Tribe of Fools is known for incorporating acrobatics into their productions, and Clown Sex Ed is no exception. However, choreography by Chiero and artistic director Terry Brennan, while inventive and fun to watch, wavers in its narrative impact. Demmy and Chiero execute the movement well — but, as in some threesomes, it seems like the choreography is incorporated to keep the company’s signature moves from feeling left out.
Peter Smith’s set of a double-sided chalkboard and plastic chairs with metal legs and Kierceton Keller’s costumes are evocative and malleable. Both help Demmy and Chiero quickly change character and place, though small details like chin straps for wigs and wimples cheapen the overall effect.
We learned something today
There’s a lot of humor to be had when tackling the topic of sex, but Demmy, Chiero, and Grace cleverly bring attention to the more serious sides of the sex talk, including consent and birth control — all with a wink, of course. The piece is built on a foundation of real facts regarding sexual education while lampooning the gaps in that knowledge created by those in charge (can’t we all agree that abstinence-only education doesn’t work?). I’m not sure we should be sending teenagers to Clown Sex Ed for their primary sex education, but it’s surprising what you can learn from a couple of clowns.
What, When, Where
Clown Sex Ed. Created by Tara Demmy, Zachary Chiero, and Lexa Grace; Lexa Grace directed. Through February 17, 2019, at the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia. www.tribeoffools.org.