The Clown of Hearts-- Helen Donnelly in Saucisse: A Foo Musical



Saucisse: A Foo Musical

Written, produced and performed by Helen Donnelly

Directed by Susanna Hamnett

Music composed by Matthew Reid

Choreography by Viv Moore

Foo Productions at Pia Bouman Scotiabank Theatre, Toronto

October 10th-20th, 2012



Foo lands onstage like a startled traveller from another universe, wearing cowboy boots, puffy denim bloomers, a leather vest, and a scruffy hat without a crown—unroyal, sweet and mean. Foo is in whiteface and a clown nose—immediately conveying an aura of toughness, vulnerability, and loneliness.

It’s a testament to Donnelly’s presence and performance that a bit of sand, a bunch of twigs (for a wee fire under the stars), and a postmodern cube with a large photo of a shiny rock on one side can be transformed into an entire western landscape—empty to the horizons, huge, unknown, and wanderable.

In this Beckettian world, Foo sings touching songs, and tries to make a living plying seemingly contraband gloves and souvenirs, only to suffer the indignity of great white spotlights and scary disembodied, interrogative voices yelling at Foo for doing so.

Donnelly’s Foo is tantalizingly mysterious. Boy or girl? Is Foo short for “Fool”? Why does Foo speak in a kind of mangled yet understandable personal lingo? Foo sleeps, meanders, builds fires, pratfalls or just avoids pratfalls. I wonder, not for the first time, what a clown is. A manifestation of the Id? Our emotional selves revealed in all our weak, alone, strong, inelegant, charming, desperation to be loved?

Donnelly breaks the fourth wall occasionally, escaping up into the audience, offering her wares teasingly; Foo appeals to us when the huge nasty voice of authority returns with a vengeance. But respites from her lonely wandering are brief—the quotidian cycle continues, and Foo trudges on.

And then, one day, Foo responds to a cry in the wilderness. The magic heart at the centre of Saucisse discovers itself to us: Saucisse is a buffon love story, the anti-romance between Foo and the sensitive little creature Foo rescues from the prairie: a small fluffy pig (a stuffed-toy puppet worked by Donnelly).

Their friendship—through trials and tribulations—a storm, long nights, and a difficult trek that Saucisse insists is her fate—is breathtakingly developed. Donnelly gets the audience’s hearts breaking for her puppet, and laughing out loud, as Foo pulls out the chart with Saucisse’s destiny, and Saucisse searches the map in one direction while Foo looks in another.

That Saucisse feels a destiny and fate-- Saucisse wants to go to the meatpacking plant-- and Foo helps-- is part of the black irony at the heart of the play.

Viv Moore’s choreography indelibly creates joy, clown stumbles, kicks and diagonal struts that enlarge and deepen Foo’s language of frustration, energy, and exploration. The sound, including pre-recorded accompaniment for the musical’s songs, is vibrant and a strong part of the play’s texture. The lighting creates days and nights, and spots of warmth and aloneness, subtly and supportively.

Saucisse is an evanscent, solid, peculiar and engaging experience. Donnelly’s clown is dark, but playful, and makes us laugh and think. The play is soaked in symbology that is at once light (we don’t need to think about it to enjoy the play) and intense: modern life as barren wasteland, within which love provides hope and warmth; the dailiness that Donnelly conveys so well, our struggles to get by; the powerful voices of authority, or conscience, or god, or all three combined, shouting down at us, even we, or Foo, do our best.

And we are all meat, in a strange way, as Saucisse is; so as the audience laughs and has heartleaps as Foo finally tracks down Saucisse, now a large sausage with a light pulsing from the inside—it is all so true, and sad. Yet so humanly funny.