‘A Retrospection’ Reveals The Wonders Of Its Creator

By Ernest Kearney  —  Words fail me.*  They fail me because Claire Woolner’s absurdist clown confessional A Retrospection is so copious of content that the conciseness of language crucial to communicate its treasures competently, even adequately, within the confines of a single review is beyond my capacity.

My passion for the art of clowning constantly comes as a surprise to most people, while I find the general public’s dismissal of “clowns” as annoyances that tumble en masse from diminutive, brightly colored coupes depressing and even distressing.

Clowning, like language and religion, is hardwired into the human psyche.  All flow from the deeply rooted needs of our species, all are indispensable to the development of human society, and “clowning” predates the others.

The earliest cultures have revealed the “clown” and the sacred to be inextricably linked, with the archetypal trickster god who proved humanity’s benefactors to be ubiquitous.  The Bamana of Africa have their korè dugaw, ritual buffoons free from all societal restraint, the heyókȟa, were the Lakota’s sacred clowns, and the Navajos’ Akba-Atatdia, the wily coyote who gave man the fire he’d stolen from heaven, and who, like his counterparts, the Mycenaean Prometheus (Greek: “forethought”) and the Semitic Lucifer (Hebrew: “light-bearer”) would suffer for his benevolence to humanity.

All societies have needed the equilibrium which clowns provide.  The stratocratic Spartans of ancient Greece had the “deikeliktas” who mocked their warriors’ fondness for boys with long eyelashes.  In The Sorrow of the Ancient Romans, Carlin Barton writes of the essential function of the “stupidus” to “break the spell” of hubris that blinded Rome’s emperors.

Once America benefited from the insightful mockery of Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin.  Now our nation seems afflicted by a plague of evil clowns: Poltergeist, Saw, Freddy Kruger, and Pennywise; their malevolence is inescapable.  America’s clowns no longer frolic in the children’s wards of Patch Adams but lurk in the crawl spaces of Pogo.  Perhaps the tradition passed down from Dan Rice, and Frank “Slivers” Oakley to Keaton and Bill Irwin has found its ultimate expression in the persona of a bloated orange-faced buffoon bedecked in an over-large red tie.

*See?  I told you, “beyond my capacity.”

Woolner’s show A Retrospection is dazzlingly deceptive and beneath her enticing puckish grin lies a depth that could doom a mammoth.

The great Russian clown Slava Polunin asserted that those who come to his shows are not spectators, not audience, but co-creators.  Woolner embraces this, and with a playful persistence goads her co-creators to peer deeper, pass the antics to perceive the anguish unveiled, and by doing so perhaps attain the ascension to atonement. 

There is a private agony in Woolner’s public clowning, a truth she repeatedly places before us, but in adherence to Dickerson’s advice, she presents it on a “slant.”   But it is there, in the washing of her grandmother’s spine, in the usage of tape as a method to maim, in employing the very symbols of life’s abundance to batter herself with a brutality that deviates into dance.  Woolner is doing openly that which is done secretively by all, she is searching for herself with the eyes of others.    

Woolner is giving her audience the rare opportunity to dive into absurdity after the meaning within.  She offers no answers, but stands in vulnerability, as a fun house mirror, whose reflection is our own.    

Platinum Medal

There is no lack of meaning in any moment of Woolner’s performance, which is like a Rorschach print given breath, and in what she is willing to confront — the genuineness of intimacy, the veracity of creativity — there is no faint-heartedness.  

There is courage in her clowning, and salvation in our laughter.

A Platinum Medal.


A Retrospection playing at the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2023
at the

For Hollywood Fringe Festival Details, A Retrospection Show Information, and Tickets Click HERE.

Learn More at clairewoolner.com


By Ernest Kearney  —  My passion for the art of clowning constantly comes as a surprise to most people, while I find the general public’s dismissal of “clowns” as annoyances depressing and even distressing. (HFF23 coverage continues)
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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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