KPBS AIRDATE: March 2, 1994 >
When was the last time you laughed till you cried? Theatrical amendment: When was the last time you laughed till you cried in the theater? Still wiping the tears from my mascara-stained cheeks, I’m here to suggest that you strongly consider making the long trek to L.A. for a theatrical event that may test your bladder control.
It’s “Fool Moon” at UCLA’s James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. It’s a trip, but I guarantee that you won’t be sorry. The hard part is describing it. It’s a clown show. A po-mo clown show, to be precise. Forget Bozo and Emmett Kelly. Bill Irwin and David Shiner are post-modern clowns of the Chaplin and Keaton school. They wear baggy pants and goofy hats and the minute they show up, your seams are starting to split.
The brilliantly cynical drama critic George Jean Nathan once said “The test of a real comedian is whether you laugh at him before he opens his mouth.” But what if he never opens his mouth? These two guys don’t make a peep for two hours, but their antics are uproarious. Don’t get nervous, now. It’s not all silence. These Lords of the Ludicrous are backed by the incredibly versatile string band, the Red Clay Ramblers. They’re ideal; sometimes drawn into the action, or providing brief titles or commentary, the Ramblers look funny themselves. One of the five wears a fez; another sports a cueball coif. And they’re very talented. You need the break every once in a while to catch your breath and stop rolling in the aisles.
Speaking of aisles, some seats in the bi-level theater are dangerous. David Shiner cavorts in the audience, which, if he’s out of sight, is watched on TV monitors scattered around the house. His first entrance is the mistaken ticket ruse. Without a word, he has a massive argument with one patron about who’s sitting in whose seat. Shiner tosses the other guy out, hits him with his program, pours a huge bucket of popcorn on a major segment of the audience. And before all of that, in getting to said seat, he literally, ruthlessly climbs all over at least two rows of viewers, wrapping his legs around their shoulders, slipping onto their laps. Just to see those Bel Air types get their $900 hairdos mauled was hilariously worth the price of admission.
Meanwhile, onstage, Irwin is doing battle with a microphone cord, in one of his classic shticks. Another of his signature bits is the steamer trunk maneuver, where he gets inside and seems to be walking down a series of steps. He shrinks his Silly Putty body down to nothing and then stretches it out again as he comes back up the staircase. He also keeps getting sucked offstage, one leg being whooshed out from under him every time he gets close to the left wing.
Those who were lucky enough to see him not long ago at the La Jolla Playhouse in “The Regard of Flight” will recognize these routines. But I, for one, can never get enough of them. With his geeky glasses and Gumby agility, Irwin is usually the nerdy nice guy. But Shiner is kind of mean-spirited — in a very funny way. Several times during the performance, he recruits volunteers from the audience, gets them to do amazing things, like act and mime and fight and kiss and tango and walk into imaginary walls, all the while imitating and ridiculing them, to the delight of the rest of the audience.
These guys are perfect foils for each other. Some of their shticks are competitive (of the “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better variety); I always thought Irwin triumphed. He’s nothing short of amazing. And you’d be nothing short of nuts to miss this production. Some people would do anything for a laugh. The least you can do is drive to L.A.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.