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This article was prepared by LucyAnn Dunlap for the May 4, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Top Bananas to Off Broadway
by LucyAnn Dunlap
Princeton native Clarke McFarlane and his wife, Brazilian chanteuse
Silvia Machete, are currently making an exciting professional debut in
New York City with their madcap comedy/musical/ love-story
extravaganza, "Planet Banana." The New York Times reviewer cheerily
recommends this piece as "ahead of the pack" and "shamefully funny."
The play, extended several times already, will run through mid-June,
at Ars Nova, 511 W 54th Street.
When 10-year-old Clarke McFarlane played Tiny Tim in McCarter’s
beloved annual production of "A Christmas Carol" in 1980, he thought
"this is the big time." And with his salary of a brand new Susan B.
Anthony dollar for each performance, he says, "I thought I was rich. I
earned $23." From then on he was known around his house as "the
actor." He says that "when friends of the family would ask me if I was
going to be an actor, I’d respond quickly with `No, I don’t want to be
a waiter all my life.’" This always got the laugh he was looking for.
McFarlane had his first taste of performing when he was eight years
old with the children’s theater group, Creative Theater Unlimited, and
with youngsters from the Nassau Presbyterian Church where, in an
impressively big production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors," his boy
soprano voice got a workout under the tutelage of Sue Ellen Page.
"She’s still there, teaching my nieces and nephews."
At Creative Theater Unlimited he got his first taste of developing a
show through improvisation. "Pam Hoffman was my main teacher," he
says. He also attended Tomato Patch, the well-regarded theater camp at
Mercer County Community College for two summers in the early 1980s, an
experience he says was "amazing."
Two of his pals from those theatrical days, Seth Herzog and Michael
Showalter, are currently in New York, also having chosen "a path of
art and creativity." McFarlane’s brother, Scott (now an architect in
Dayton, Ohio), who is six years older than he, introduced him to the
art of juggling. The younger McFarlane tagged along when the buddies
gathered "down the street" to juggle at the their friends Charlie and
John Sullivan’s house and put on magic shows. That was the extent of
big brother’s interest in things theatrical, but the two still "pass a
few clubs" when they get together. (Their father, Jock McFarlane, a
retired "computer guy" who worked for RCA and then Novartis, still
lives in Princeton. His mother died a few years ago. His sister,
Heather Riehl, teaches history to 13 and 14-year-olds in the Ewing
school district, lives in Hamilton Township, and is moving soon to
At Princeton High School, McFarlane was active in theatrical
activities. "I broke into the competitive world of high school theater
by playing Maude’s pet seal in ‘Harold and Maude’ my freshman year,"
he says. He also played the Fire Chief in "The Bald Soprano," Arpad in
"She Loves Me," Filch in "A Three Penny Opera," and Ellard in "the
Foreigner." As was expected, however, in this strongly college-prep
atmosphere, he obliged after graduating in 1988 and went off to
Wooster College in Ohio to major in biology. This changed to a major
in psychology when he met college chemistry. After graduating in 1992
he was considering graduate school possibilities and decided to take a
year off. "I’m 35 and I’m still on my year off," he says.
Traveling through Europe, he earned a bit of money to speed him on his
adventures by performing on the street. He had his first experience as
a street performer, also in Princeton, for First Night on Nassau
Street, the now defunct New Year’s Eve celebration. In his first
season on the streets in Europe, he met with professional street
performers and realized that this was a possible career and proceeded
to spend the next two years becoming a professional street performer
Then, a year later at a Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, he met
Silvia, who had come down from Paris for the Brazilian Jazz Nights. He
was living in Zurich then; six months later, he moved to Paris and
they have been together ever since. They certainly sound like kindred
spirits. Silvia, who is foremost a singer, had become interested in
"circus arts" through the Brazilian martial arts troupe Capoeira. In
Paris, she went to circus school, where she learned juggling and
trapeze work. All in all, a great set-up for the performances she and
her husband built together, partners on stage and off. "She’s an
athlete and a clown," says McFarlane. "I don’t find an end to her
talent. She’s amazing."
As I waited at the offices of Ars Nova to talk with McFarlane, he made
his entrance, out of breath and exuberantly holding aloft a copy of
Time Out with another good review for his "Planet Banana." He had just
completed a stint, again on the streets, in Washington Square Park,
doing a little actorly promotion for the show. "Such a wonderful
diverse audience in Washington Square, from garbage scavengers to
corporate execs." We settled in the boardroom of the production
company to talk about his travels from Princeton to New York City via
Europe, Brazil, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong – to
name just a few of the exotic places he and Silvia have traveled
Performing in Rio, the audience responds wildly to a set-up jealous
battle for Silvia’s love. "Especially with me being a gringo," says
McFarlane. And in Hong Kong audiences are noisy. "When they like
something, they make a high-pitched scream and vocally respond to the
action." Of course, McFarlane demonstrates.
With "Planet Banana" they have achieved "our wildest dream" – to
perform their comedy together with live music. This is a performance
they have been developing for several years and have played at the
Edinburgh Festival and at two Off Off-Broadway venues. Ars Nova
brought in a director to polish their performance and added other
professional touches including the band, the Daniel Jodocy Trio.
"Planet Banana" has been described as a romantic farce that mixes
music, comedy, juggling, trapeze artistry, and sexy costumes, not to
mention a plethora of bananas sacrificed at each performance. Some
reviewers have described the show as "raunchy," but McFarlane says
that he and Silvia see it as "sweet and romantic." He admits that
Silvia is "completely unrepressed sexually — it’s just who she is.
And she’s very hot." Makes one think of the other Brazilian export,
also associated with bananas, Carmen Miranda. "We’re following in her
grand footsteps. Or at least with her vibe," says McFarlane.
When a performance doesn’t go perfectly, they are mad at each other.
But, says McFarlane, "when we get a standing ovation and a great
review from the New York Times, it’s great to share it with someone."
The name for their show developed during festival performances in
Europe. "Our style is sort of lounge-lizard, organ music, bossa nova,
leopard skin," says McFarlane. "Every performance I’d introduce
ourselves and play with words. Up came Planet Banana. It’s nice. It’s
international. People can grab onto it even if English isn’t their
first or second language."
For now Ars Nova is considering finding a larger venue for "Planet
Banana," and perhaps there may be a tour. And, of course, the two of
them could also make the festival circuit again this summer in Europe.
"But now our wildest dream is to work with some of our favorite
performers, building a company that’s not just the two of us. We’re
cookin’ a new show."
"Planet Banana," Ars Nova Theater, 511 West 54th Street, New York.
$20. 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com. Through mid-June.
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