Reviews

Review: Clowns Like Me, a Moving Look at Mental Illness

Scott Ehrenpreis presents his solo show at the DR2 Theater.

Scott Ehrenpreis stars in Clowns Like Me at the DR2 Theatre.
(© Rebecca J. Michelson)

Appropriately enough, Clowns Like Me, staged at the DR2 theater, kicks off with star Scott Ehrenpreis cleaning his props. Ehrenpreis has OCD, so while the production staff keep everything tidy, Ehrenpreis intones “There is clean, and there is Scott Ehrenpreis clean, you know what I’m saying?” while he vacuums the carpet. With a mission of educating people about mental illness and reducing stigma, Ehrenpreis finds humor and heart in relating his experiences to the crowd during this one-man show, though the show occasionally stays on the surface when it could go deeper.

Clowns Like Me takes audiences through Ehrenpreis’s life with several mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, social anxiety, and depression. He is also autistic, identifying as having Asperger’s syndrome, though he points out during the play that the terminology has changed and people do not receive that diagnosis today. Ehrenpreis reveals that a key feature of his Asperger’s, a “special gift” that he excels at “at the expense of everything else,” is acting. It takes him out of his own mind and allows him to connect with people. This is obvious from the way he takes to the stage and commands the audience’s attention. It is difficult to keep a show over an hour long afloat with one actor alone, but Ehrenpreis makes the time go by quickly. Writer and director Jason Cannon doesn’t let the production drag as it moves seamlessly from lightness and humor to more serious moments.

Ehrenpreis uses details from his own history to connect with the audience. He uses a story about fighting with a karate teacher as a child as a heart-wrenching metaphor for fighting against mental illness. His karate teacher implored Ehrenpreis to keep punching until he wore himself out, then flipped him over on his back on the mat. His mental illnesses wear him out and take him down, and he can never fully knock them out.

Scott Ehrenpreis stars in Clowns Like Me at the DR2 Theatre.
(© Rebecca J. Michelson)

When Ehrenpreis spends some hours in jail after shoplifting DVDs (another one of his obsessions), he meets a fellow inmate who takes the time to calm him down and make him laugh. Ehrenpreis finds more connection with people society deems “on the fringes,” who Ehrenpreis refers to as the “clowns.” This thread ends up giving the show its shape, which works well in giving it closure and resonance.

Still, there are some elements that leave more to be desired. Ehrenpreis’s successes are described in incredible detail, but the challenges he faced are often talked about in more general terms. Instead of sharing specific instances where he faced difficulties as a child, teen, and adult, he focuses on experiences that “people with mental illness have.” It makes sense that he would do this, as it is in keeping with the play’s goal of sharing knowledge and reducing stigma. But because Ehrenpreis so naturally creates understanding between himself and the audience, I found myself wishing for more personal stories and a deeper dive into how he as an individual experiences the world. The truly special thing about this production is having a first-hand account of what it’s like to live with these conditions, and I wanted to hear more of those kinds of stories.

This became most apparent at the end of the show during the curtain call. While Ehrenpreis was taking a bow, the polished veneer fell away, and he took a deep, shaky breath. For an instant, the non-actor Ehrenpreis was on stage, and it drove home that acting really is his gift. Though I wish we had seen more of the non-actor during the show, the hour spent was enjoyable and moving.

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Clowns Like Me

Final performance: August 18, 2024

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