“Physical comedy comes from deep within you,” Rowan Atkinson told me in an interview years ago, explaining why even versatile comic actors can only ever get one character to appear when they focus on straight physical comedy. That’s true of Atkinson’s Mr. Bean, Chaplin’s Little Tramp, Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot and every circus clown that ever was.
Jibz Cameron is a New York-based actor who sometimes performs with theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, and sometimes as Dynasty Handbag, who appeared at Buddies in Bad Times on Thursday for a solo show presented by Pleasure Dome. Dynasty Handbag is scaled a few degrees larger than life, but she’s clearly a very personal, from-the-guts creation, as she showed in a solo piece called Bags.
With her garish workout costume, her hair backcombed up into a frizzy ball and her face made up to exaggerate her strong, rubbery features, Cameron played a series of clownish confrontations with bags lying around the otherwise empty stage. Nothing could be more passive than a bag for carrying a lunch or groceries, but these bags were demanding, mouthy and manipulative. They did all the talking, in vivid voiceovers, and Cameron sprang to do their absurd bidding, her face often registering a thought of doubt or protest a beat or two later. Like a lot of physical comedy, Bags is a satire of social compliance, a comically overdrawn representation of someone just trying to please, whether it’s a paper bag demanding more penetration or a sandwich bag trying to fit you into the zip-lock containers of mom’s world.
Fitting a mould is also the subject of Cameron’s new video A Dream Is Not a Life (directed by Hedia Maron, and shown in Canada for the first time), in which she puts own life story into the overblown frame of Beyoncé’s recent biopic, Life Is But a Dream, one of the most narcissistic films of the past year. Like Beyoncé, Cameron talks to her laptop as to an intimate friend and muses on the problems of being a massive star, while sitting in her modest apartment or cramped dressing room. She plays a squirmy-funny scene as the showbiz parent of an ornamental baby, and got a startled laugh from the Buddies crowd while literally rolling around on her father’s grave. Cameron’s farcical humour does not look before crossing.
There was something a bit ferocious about her stage persona, even while she deflated herself and everything else in funny, perfectly timed patter. Dynasty Handbag is like a reckless circus clown who makes you laugh but also pray to God she doesn’t strut over near you. Her all-in performance of Beyoncé’s Party was a devastating sendup that also came across like a personal act of revenge, prepared hot before our eyes. As with all good physical comedy, she made you feel more than you could see.