Corrections or additions?

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

West Windsor.)

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

himself.

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

together.

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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