Sunday, October 09, 2011

Play: Send in the Clown

Humor Abuse, created by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt, directed by Erica Schmidt, Seattle Repertory Theatre until 23 October.

The Lovely Bride and I have season tickets to the Seattle Rep, and for many years support they sent us a discount card, in the hopes we would pass it on to someone else, who would then enjoy a play and thne get wrapped up in the whole theater thing. And I gave the discount card to a friend, with the warning - the first show is a one-man play, and those are always iffy propositions.

I speak from experience. It could be the fact that the pressure is on one set of shoulders that provides a heavy load. And while a one-actor wonder can be truly wonderful (K of D, last year), or thoughtful (anything by Mike Daisey), it can also be pretentious ((Texts for Nothing, which occurred before I started blogging in this space) or just godawful (Thom Paine). So knew of which I spoke.

However, waiter, I  am ready to order - The crow special looks very good, but I think I will start with my hat. Oh, and could I have a slice of homemade humble pie on the side?

Humor Abuse is a funny, warm, enjoyable, one-man show about a boy who ran away from the circus. It is Lorenzo Pisoni's autobiography of his life growing up in the Pickles Family circus, and his relationship with his father Larry. Now it is the clowning that gets you in the door - for a man who at the outset claims to not be very funny, Pisoni is hilarious as he moves through his father's routines and his own. But you stay for Pisoni's own story, of joining the act, staying with his father, continuing with the circus after his father was asked to leave, trying to escape form that past, and finally coming to terms with it.

The Pickles Family Circus was a small west coast operation of the 70s - more kin to the later Soliel than child of Barnum and Bailey. The Pisoni humor is physical, and more in the domain of painful pratfall than smiling laughter. The younger Pisoni's training was along the lines of learning how to fall down the stairs than delivering a pie. The clowns of this era (Bill Irwin was part of the gang) are more existential than funny. So the Pisonis were dealing with the humor of frustration, punctuated with the very real chance of personal injury.

I always take after the Rep-style theaters when they do one-person shows in that they don't by definition use local actors, one of the purposes of a Repertory. Well, we've seen Lorenzo Pisoni before, both as the Gatsby in the Great Gatsby, and as Jeff Ablom's schuck persona in Tuesday's at Morries. So we know he is an excellent actor to begin with. What we didn't know is the strength of his physical acting. And, the fact that he is that as a humorless clown, he is hilarious.

The performance moves through quickly, and if anything, I want to know more about Pisoni than I want to see his acts by the end (and his clowning is very good). Not only did the audience give him a standing ovation at the end, but they also stayed for slide show that was playing as they left. The slide show was supposed to play as they left, sort of end credits. And they stayed, unsure if things were really over.

Well done. Well worth seeing. More later,