A Clay Fired Duke

To terminate an illness of culture you could shatter a clay fired duke. Inside you would find a desperate character — Clay Duke.  The performance of Dayna Hanson’s The Clay Duke was as desperate as the character itself. This is art imitating life that makes watching the performance compelling.


In Panama City, Florida on December 14th 2010 at a school board meeting Clay Allen Duke rises and states, “I have a motion.” He pulls out a can of red spray paint and paints a V in a circle. He pulls out a pistol. He lets women and children leave, proceeds to argue with the board members, and then attempts to shoot the board members. He misses every time. Duke is shot by the school police officer. Laying wounded on the floor Duke then executes himself. This is what I knew before I went to see Dayna Hanson’s The Clay Duke at On The Boards theater in Seattle tonight.



The whole thing is Chekhovian with this knowledge in hand. You can apparently easily find a video of the events online, and while I myself passed on viewing it Danya Hanson carefully studied and modeled movement of the true event for the creation of The Clay Duke. The name itself sets up a ruse. There is no duke at all here, and he would have been better off had he been made of something more durable than clay. This clay fired character is breaking. The dialogue explains it, but his movement shows it. Much of what can be said of this kind of performance is too constructed next to the actual events of real life or the events that occur on stage: examining the contents of a purse, discussing the merits of tucking in the shirt in school uniforms, patterned dance with marshmallows in the mouth, a disco of animals and so on. The motion that The Clay Duke presents is not always sensible. Neither was the motion which Clay Allen Duke presented. That is the theme here.


An antisocial snake comes slithering in to reveal the personality of Clay Allen Duke. Indeed, the entire time Duke is a double. There are two performers embodying him that shadow each other. It is a brave move that works for the show and the casting is perfect. One looks like an aged version of the other. It is uncanny. I think that the two Dukes together in their gesticulating, swaying, stomping, and decaying were compelling. They gave a feeling of knowing to the Duke’s humanness.


Gun violence examined from the lens of dance is unusual, but given the prevalence of such violence it is a worthy subject. This event is rather senseless. Some of what happens on stage is too, but this is art imitating life for what it is. This was a desperate man full of resentments. In the end he drank his own poison hoping it would kill his enemies. I would rather see dukes with swords, not guns, but this isn’t what society has given us. This performance gives us something better than any of that.


The Clay Duke is showing at On The Board’s theater this weekend from December 5th to 8th.

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