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Theater In Dialogue

bad, clown, bad Jeffrey M. Jones and his nasty circus

Photograph of A Man’s Best Friend by Katherine Owens. Left, Bruce DuBose as Andy Warhol, right, Tom Lenaghen as Sluggo the clown.

Playwrights Sheila Callaghan and Jason Grote recently saw the Undermain Theater’s production of Jeffrey M. Jones’s play A Man’s Best Friend, and they discussed the play in Sheila’s Brooklyn kitchen. Let it suffice to say, the play hinges on the plight of Sluggo, the prototypical Bad Clown.

Jason Grote: There are these playwrights that I always associate in my head—Jeff Jones, Len Jenkin, Eric Overmeyer, Mac Wellman. They take old-fashioned detritus of popular American culture—like the snake-oil salesman, the traveling circus, vaudeville—and they deconstruct it, or they all have their own individual takes on it, but they love this vernacular.

Sheila Callaghan: It feels like they grew up in the circus. Though none of them did. I don’t know any of their backgrounds, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t grow up in the circus. [Laughs.]

Grote: I think actually, uh, Neil LaBute grew up in the circus. [Laughs.]

Callaghan: That makes sense. [Laughs.]

Grote: It was the Mormon circus. [Laughs.]

Callaghan: So did these characters love the squid-baby?

Grote: I think Jane did.

Callaghan: No one acknowledged that it was a squid except Sluggo.

Grote: Exactly. Everyone else thought it was a baby. The really horrifying thing about the play, about the climax, is that the clown cartoon violence becomes very real. And in a really problematic way. It’s not like the violence of a Hollywood movie, where you feel like the people getting the violence directed at them somehow deserve it. This was the opposite of that, where the person doing the violence was more or less totally unsympathetic, and the people that were the victims of the violence…it was totally undeserved.

Callaghan: Like the Steve character?

Grote: Yeah, but I’m talking about that moment at the end, where Sluggo kills everybody on stage. He kills his wife, he kills the baby.

Callaghan: But I didn’t really buy that as violence. Because they all turn into zombies anyway [laughs].

Grote: Well, it keeps veering back and forth between the cartoon violence that you feel comfortable laughing at, and the violence that makes you squirm in your seat. Theater of Cruelty violence.

A Man’s Best Friend by Jeffrey M. Jones, directed by Katherine Owens, runs from February 25 – March 19, Wednesday – Saturday @ 7:30 p.m. The Walker Space, 46 Walker Street, NYC. Tickets: $15. Theatermania at 212- 352-2101 or

IN DIALOGUE is a column written by playwrights about playwrights, with a focus on showcasing new texts. If you are a playwright, and would like to write a column, please contact Emily DeVoti at:


Jason Grote

Jason Grote is the author of 1001, Maria/Stuart, and Hamilton Township. He is writing the screenplay for What We Got: DJ Spooky's Quest For The Commons, and co-hosting the Acousmatic Theater Hour on WFMU.

Sheila Callaghan

Sheila Callaghan is a playwright living in Brooklyn. Several of her short pieces will be seen as part of UNCLE SAM'S SATIRIC SPECTACULAR at this year's Humana Festival, and DEAD CITY, her loose adaptation of Joyce's ULYSSES, will be read on April 4 as part of the Public's New Works Now series. Visit her at


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2005

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