Sara Toby Moore Touches Our Hearts with Clowning
by Kelly Mou
At first, I didn’t want to be there because I thought it was a simple and silly clown show. But the facade comes apart and I see truth, pain, and suffering. The jokes started becoming less comedic and more meaningful.
“Atomic Comic A Human Cartoon Fantasia” takes place during the early stages of the Pandemic, when loss is frequent, and love is fragile. Comedian Sara Toby Moore uses these sensitive years to reveal the darkest and deepest of human emotions.
How do we find connection, love, and hope when everything seems to be falling apart?
Moore explores trauma and the process of healing by combining hyper-physical comedy with musical theater. Daphne (Sharon Shao) breaks into Britney Spears’ song “Oops!…I Did It Again,” revealing how poorly we treat ourselves. Writer and star clown Sara Toby Moore shares her voyage through a string of tragic events—the death of a parent, a cancer diagnosis, and a devastating break-up with their wife.
Each dark moment is followed by a sudden, loud blast of melody and then, cheerful humor. Moore highlights our instinct to cover up trauma, instead of healing ourselves. As “a professional, physical clown,” Toby faces those three disasters with humor and comedy.
Her secret ingredient is exaggerated humor which she uses to heal, recover, and shield from reality. They hide behind intentionally clumsy, childish jokes—like inviting the audience to toss marshmallows at the actors. Their self-deprecating humor invites us to empathize with the melancholy clown. When the cheerful atmosphere is tainted with glimmers of sadness, the comedy reveals itself as tragedy.
Scenic designer Sarah Phykitt’s mountains of brown suitcases create a clever set that encourages us to share the clowns’ burdens. These suitcases represent the emotional baggage that we carry on our backs.
Hospitals and therapy sessions provide Toby a place to heal. The clowns take their show on tour, riding on a hospital gurney. As the makeshift train takes them across the Central Valley, they “choo-choo” on a metaphorical journey of loss and acceptance.
Although Toby’s fellow clowns Hammy Sammy (Colin Johnson) and Rando (Demarcello Funes) start out as comic relief, they stand by Toby through the ups and downs. They are Toby’s family and their commitment to Toby shows that hope is everlasting.
Moore’s touching creativity proves that clowning is more than just humoring the crowd. Rather, it’s a way of processing difficult emotions. Losing is painful, healing is necessary, and love is powerful.
As the hospital gurney takes the soundly sleeping clowns back home, Toby recaps the journey: “This is family. This is the truest love. Atomic. Indivisible.”
“Atomic Comic” reassures me that comedy and community can intermingle. And they matter.
“Atomic Comic: A Human Cartoon Fantasia” by Sara Toby Moore, directed by Sean Owens, at Z Space, 450 Florida St. (at 17th St.), San Francisco 94110. Info: Zspace.org – to July 8, 2023.
Cast: Sara Toby Moore, Colin Johnson, DeMarcello Funes, and Sharon Shao.
Video appearances by: Maureen McVerry, George Maguire, and Sharon Gless.
Banner photo: Sara Toby Moore, Colin Johnson, & DeMarcello Funes. On Screen: George Maguire.