Cucci & Cabana

Emilie Leclerc Credit: James Loewen
Emilie Leclerc
Credit: James Loewen

At Studio 16 until May 11

Posted May 5, 2013

Cucci & Cabana is a clown show in the style of Mump & Smoot but, rather than speaking in gobbledygook as Smoot and Mump do, Cabana and Cucci speak French which, I’m ashamed to say, I understand only marginally better than those other two clowns. Thank goodness for surtitles in English.

Created by performers Emilie Leclerc and Joey Lespérance with the help of director Alison Kelly, Cucci & Cabana makes completely ridiculous our culture’s love affair with youth, beauty and perfection.

Alia Stephen’s set is bright and colourful: two “cut-out” painted houses side by side. Cabana (Leclerc) lives stage right; Cucci (Lespérance), left. Each has a tiny front yard and an imaginary gate. It’s bright, cute and cartoony and Kate de Lorme’s jazzy, upbeat sound design fits perfectly.

When we first meet Cucci and Cabana they’re naked. Well, not exactly naked; the actors both wear tight fitting flesh-coloured body stockings that leave nothing to the imagination. We understand that Cabana and Cucci are, like Adam and Eve, unclothed. And we see right away as they share a big rainbow lollipop that they are happy. Adam and Eve before the fall; Eve and Adam before they discover their nakedness. On with the fig leaves.

No fig leaves for Cucci and Cabana. After they discover to their horror that they are naked – and we are there looking at them – they pull from a pile of brightly coloured clothes something to wear. These two costumes, designed by Lespérance and Carolle Gallienne, are crazy and wild: a polka dot jacket and multi-layered tutus on Cabana and puffy, silky shorts and day-glo vest on Cucci. And, naturally, they are already wearing the obligatory red clown noses.

Joey Lespérance Credit: James Loewen
Joey Lespérance
Credit: James Loewen

And that’s where it all starts. Cucci is worried about the size of his shnoz; Cabana thinks her knees are ugly. A poster advertising a beauty contest suddenly thrusts them into a panic of self-improvement that leads to dire – and not at all funny – consequences. We’ve all read about Botox gone wrong or liposuction disasters. Wait ‘til you see what Cucci does to his nose and Cabana does to her knees.

Both performers have heaps of clowning chops. According to the program, Leclerc, a Studio 58 grad, “a étudié le clown et le bouffon à l’École Philippe Gaulier en France” and Lespérance (another Studio 58 grad) “travaille en tant que comédien professionnel depuis plus de 20 ans.” With exaggerated facial cues and excellent physicality, they leave little doubt as to what’s going on. And they do speak; it’s not a mime show.

Kelly, famous for her part in creating and performing the Mom trilogy (Mom’s The Word, Mom’s The Word: Unhinged and Mom’s The Word: Remixed) makes her directorial debut and it’s a strong one. She keeps the pace up and keeps it clean and simple – as it should be.
Here’s the problem: who’s the target audience? Cucci and Cabana is too much of a skit to hold interest – for long – for adults. And we’ve either already rejected the beauty quest or it’s too late to change our minds. And I suspect the show is not sophisticated enough to appeal to the real victims of the pursuit of physical perfection: girls from, say, the age of eleven and on up. Really little kids might get it and, who knows, maybe it would have an impact. But with the ever-present, billion-dollar budget ad campaigns, a show like Cucci and Cabana doesn’t have a chance.

So where does Cucci and Cabana fit? It’s a bit dark at the end for kiddies and not persuasive enough for adolescents and teenagers.

If the creative trio wants to take Cucci and Cabana further, perhaps with a re-worked ending – where, say, Cucci and Cabana realize how silly they’ve been and end up naked and sharing a lollipop again – it could fit into the Vancouver Children’s Festival.


Emilie Leclerc and Joey Lespérance Credit:  James Loewen
Emilie Leclerc and Joey Lespérance
Credit: James Loewen