Clowns rule at Gatsby’s Pub

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Happy and Blinky, played by Alex Stone and Britt Cannino Stone, have a tense reunion during the play Clown Bar at Gatsby's Pub. (photo by Kat Bodrie)

A cop with unfinished business. A dead clown who just wanted to be funny.

Several clowns that murder. And a singing clown who can’t bear to bury his 37-year-old cat so he puts it in the freezer.

Clown Bar, produced by Spirit Gum Theatre of Winston-Salem, had three encore performances at Gatsby’s Pub last weekend. It was popular for good reason; not only did a $15 ticket come with a drink — the choice of well liquor, draft beer or wine — it was an immersive show, where actors performed amidst the audience rather than on a stage.

Before the show started at the Burke Street corner bar in Winston-Salem, Dusty, played by Mark Flora, shuffled around the room greeting theatergoers in a squeaky voice. Then his first song began.

“Welcome, welcome,” he sang in a smooth baritone as he strolled through the room.

“You’re not welcome,” he sang, pointing a finger into one man’s face. As an aside, he whispered into the mic, “No, it’s great that you’re here. Thanks for seeing the show.”

Alex Stone, who played police protagonist Happy Mahoney, said some people had a “deer in headlights” look because of the atypical format of the play.

I hadn’t experienced immersive theater before, but it was fun to constantly look around to keep up with the story. A few of the characters even ordered drinks from the bar.

Visit Gatsby’s Pub at 1157 Burke St. (W-S) and find Spirit Gum Theatre at spiritgumtheatre.com or on Facebook. Catch Bunker Dogs Improv’s next show on Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. at the Winston-Salem Theater Alliance.

I also didn’t know when someone was going to walk through one of the doors and try to kill another character with a tiny cap gun.

By Aug. 5 — the final night — some audience members like Teresa Breakey had seen the show already.

“When I came Friday, I felt like just observing, but on Saturday I felt like I was really part of the [clown] bar,” Breakey said.

A comedic actress at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville since 2002, Breakey described Spirit Gum Theatre’s plays as “avant garde, but not corny.”

Several of the cast members are also part of Bunker Dogs Improv, a group native to Winston-Salem, which helped explain at least some of the ad-libbed lines.

Gatsby’s Pub, a small dive, gave the play an intimate and authentic feel. Next time I go, I’ll remember the moment Happy held Dusty at gunpoint, saying he would bury his cat for him.