The Morons Don't Have to Laugh | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Morons Don't Have to Laugh 

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The Morons Don't Have to Laugh, Clunk, at WNEP Theater. Daniil Kharms made a living penning children's stories, but also ran with a crowd of envelope-pushing artists in the 20s and 30s, mounting readings and playlets somewhere between post-Dada and protoabsurd. Their bewildering rhetoric aside, Kharms pursued an oblique formalism, writing dozens of boiled-down, blackly hilarious, faintly surreal vignettes that suggest the musings of a Russian Gorey. As Stalinism accelerated, putting the kibosh on anything remotely subversive, he was able to persist longer than many thanks to this comic guise. But an arrest in 1931 was followed by suppression of his works in 1937, and in 1941 he was thrown into prison, where he starved to death during the siege of Leningrad.

Now Clunk brings the ill-fated visionary's work to the stage, in a show somewhat reminiscent of 500 Clown's literate buffoonery. Clad in natty matching outfits, the three performers trickle out one by one. Then withering emcee Jack (Steve Lund, channeling James Mason) lays out the evening's two types of humor: a kind of Kaufman-esque noncomedy and a more jarring vaudevillainy, at which the "morons" need not giggle. Fans of awkward pauses and faux pretension will find a feast in the polished stop-start shenanigans that follow, but there's also plenty of vivid visual stuff--fat guys on fire, clumsy stage combat, etc. Lund, Beau Johnson, and Virginia Killian sell it all with verve and uncanny poise; the bar just went up for late-night theater.

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