'The Funnybun Family Picnic'

In her new play for children, Emily Ball Cicchini clowns around with an Arthur Miller classic

Tears of a clown: Aaron Alexander and Karina Dominguez in <i>The Funnybun Family Picnic</i>
Tears of a clown: Aaron Alexander and Karina Dominguez in The Funnybun Family Picnic (Photo courtesy of Judy matetzschk-campbell)

Wrap your mind around this if you can: Death of a Salesman – yes, that apex of American tragedy – with the Lomans reimagined as clowns. In a play for children.

That's the core of Emily Ball Cicchini's new script with the distinctly un-Milleresque title of The Funnybun Family Picnic, premiering this week at the Long Center. Willy, Linda, Happy, and Biff have been transformed into a clan of circus buffoons (with Biff further altered into Buffy), whose innocuous outing together exposes tensions within the family and a sad secret of papa Willie's. Pretty sober stuff for the kindergarten set, but Cicchini says that she's rewritten Miller's tragic ending "to give us all some hope" and stuffed the show with one-liners and physical comedy.

Indeed, the impulse to write about clowns came before her idea to appropriate Miller's drama. "I want live theatre to be really special, vibrant, interesting – so it can compete with digital media in richness of presentation," she says. "The clowning world is ripe territory for exploration. The different types of clowns and their functions in society over time are fascinating. So many people have mixed feelings and even deep fears about clowns, and that's really cool and bizarre."

Cicchini, resident playwright for Pollyanna Theatre Company, pitched the idea of a clown play to Artistic Director Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, who responsed enthusiastically. "I think the Death of a Salesman thing was kind of a surprise introduction with the first treatment," she recalls. "I like appropriation partly because it is a structural scaffold. I'm good at characters and dialogue, not always so good with plots. I've done it before with Ibsen and Chekhov and Mamet. This time, I took the parody a great deal further, laying into the comedy in a broad way. I think this transformed the original even more."

Don't expect every element of Funnybun to echo the original. Cicchini expressly felt the need to develop the female perspective: "The biggest thing I had to consciously change was Linda's character. I thought a great deal about her last line after Willy's suicide: 'We're free.' Good golly, this can be interpreted so many ways. That's why Miller is brilliant. But, to me, she still comes off too much like a passive victim, and I just couldn't stick with that model of a mother's role."

Do expect jokey references to Miller, though: Alaska, salesmen, Ben and Charley. Cicchini feels adults might enjoy her play more if they get reacquainted with the original beforehand, watching a video version or reading the play. Kids, however, she thinks, "should be good to go. To quote my version of Happy: 'Viewer discretion may be advised, but it's never really expected.'"


The Funnybun Family Picnic runs July 13-21, Saturday, 2pm & 4pm; Sunday, 2pm; Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 & 11:15am, with additional performances Tuesday, July 16, 1pm; and Saturday, July 20, 11am, at the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 512/474-5664 (weekend shows) or 512/743-7966 (weekday shows) or visit www.pollyannatheatrecompany.org.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More by Robert Faires
Second Wave of Acts Added to Moontower Comedy Festival 2019
Second Wave of Acts Added to Moontower Comedy Festival 2019
Latest list of headliners shows Moontower up Schitt's Creek

Jan. 18, 2019

In <i>Heartland</i>, Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean Makes the War in Afghanistan Personal
In Heartland, Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean Makes the War in Afghanistan Personal
Michener Center alumnus' latest drama turns down the volume of war

Jan. 18, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Funnybun Family Picnic, Austin theatre, Pollyanna Theatre Company, Emily Cicchini, Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle