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The art of clowning might seem like anoxymoron-there are a lot of people who hate clowns, and I'm among their bitter ranks. The key with hate, of course, is to occasionally face it square-on and expose yourself to that very thing you loathe just to make certain you still do. That makes Rude Guerrilla's Clownzilla: A Holiday Extravaganza the ideal show for a clown-hate showdown. But be warned: Not only might it exorcise all the negative clowndemons from your soul, but it might also elevate clowns into your realm of love-or at least like.

Director Eli Simon's clown troupe is neither the Barnum & Bailey variety nor the Cirque de Soleil kind, more like a gang of Marcel Marceau mimes with red noses, propelled into the abstractions of existential light and shadow as they tell the simple story of a "sad" clown family on the brink of suicide from ennui. Every day is the dreadful same for them until they discover a golden book of alphabetized holidays. With this new calendar of daily events to look forward to, they're suddenly ignited to live out each holiday on record-and some that aren't-with their own unique interpretations.

It's these interpretations that are often exquisite, such as when R.J. Romero's Clown Son does a mad, slow-motion dash during Running of the Bulls Day. Adrienne Mueller's Mother Clown and Elizabeth Graciano's Baby Clown are also keenly expressive in their space and gag work, pretty much stealing any scene they're in, except for Dia de los Muertos, when Father Clown (Rac Pimentel) does his crazy, limber chickenhawk dance, or whatever it was. All the clowning would be only half as effective if it weren't for sound designer Vincent Oliveri's aural creations blanketing each scene-a mélange of layer upon layer of human utterances, sometimes rolling into humming song, sometimes into guttural special effects, sometimes into both.

But the key to the show isn't really the clown gags-this type of miming has roots deep in the human experience. While there's a squirting flower and lots of confetti at one point, the clowns also bring some poignant moments to light: a child asking her mother if God exists, a wee slap at George W., Cupid turning male/female friendships into all-out wars with a single arrow prick. And what could resonate more than the family's initial disposition of depression and gloom at being trapped in a monotonous life before they found the holiday book-and thus, the will to live? That sounds like everyone we know. Except maybe for the finding-the-will-to-live part.

Clownzilla: A Holiday Extravaganza at Rude Guerrilla, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through Dec. 15. $10-$20.

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