Clowning with the audience

Eric Davis's character the Red Bastard is part clown and part buffoon.
Eric Davis's character the Red Bastard is part clown and part buffoon.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 9:29 AM

No better name could describe performer Eric Davis's paunchy, caustic alter ego than the one he has chosen: the Red Bastard. It recalls comic-book villains, and in many ways, that's exactly what the Red Bastard is - a spandex-clad firecracker who can make an audience cower with a single glare.

The character (based on a magpie movement teacher from Davis's theater-school days) has become a staple at fringe festivals around the world. Part clown - he's got a lumpy backside that's like a funhouse-mirror version of Kim Kardashian's - and part buffoon, the Red Bastard doesn't seek audience participation during his 75-minute, one-man show so much as demand it in funny, embarrassing ways. "It's kind of a provocative show," Davis says by phone from New York. "Some people love it, and there are people who really don't like it, as well."

Next week, Washingtonians can subject themselves to the Bastard's whims for a few performances at Warehouse Theater that will be among Davis's last; the New York-based founder of the Clown Theatre Festival is moving to Los Angeles to star in the forthcoming Cirque du Soleil production "Iris." We caught up with Davis before his visit.

Who is the Red Bastard?

The base character is this buffoon. Sometimes he's pretending to be a movement teacher, sometimes he's pretending to be a clown. Buffoon is an excellent manipulator, he's an excellent liar. He's a shape-shifter. As I'm restructuring this show, as opposed to a couple of months ago, I now think he's a part of the collective unconscious. He's just bounced around in the back of our brains, in our dreams, in our nightmares - he's kind of like your id.

That's the exact word that I thought of, id. He just operates without thinking of anyone else.

He's kind of amoral, yeah.

How has the Red Bastard evolved?

It began as a parody of this movement teacher, and now, it's kind of a Frankenstein of a show. It ends up being very much, at the end, about the audience and what their limits are and how they want to live their lives. But it's a show that began almost entirely with this dictator on stage, and by the end everything is sort of inversed.

What are you demanding of your audience?

I'm demanding to be followed in some way. During the show, people will be getting up, they'll be getting out of their seats. Basically, I'm testing to see how far they won't go with it; I'm testing people's boundaries.

Years ago, in an interview with the New York Times, you were weighing whether you should join Cirque du Soleil. Now you are. Is this your first stint?

I did one where I was brought on for a guy who had broken his knee, so I went to Asia for like five, six months. It was a good experience for me. I found it to be a good company to work for.

You're going from playing a character that you've created and performed for years to playing a new role. What happens to the Red Bastard?

I don't know! The performance schedule is pretty intense, something like eight or 10 shows a week; it's incredible, so I don't know what my energy or interest level will be. Maybe I'll take the time to conceptually create a new show. I love it though. It is some part of who I am, so even if it changes, I think people will say "Oh, that's very like Red Bastard."

The Red Bastard Thursday and Jan. 14 and 16 at 8 p.m. at Warehouse Theater, 645 New York Ave. NW. or Contains sexual situations and profanity. $20.

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