Holler if Ya Hear Me: review

*published in The EDGE on 19 June 2014

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside (background) and Joshua Boone

Saul Williams, Dyllon Burnside (background) and Joshua Boone  (Source:Joan Marcus)

 

“Holler If Ya Hear Me,” is the new musical inspired by the lyrics of the late rapper Tupac Shakur and directed by powerhouse Kenny Leon, fresh off his win at the Tony Awards. It is not a literal telling of Tupac’s life, but rather, “a non-biographical story about friendship, family, revenge, change and hope.”

This is a huge undertaking because although Tupac Shakur’s life was cut off at 25, he was an incredibly prolific writer, rapper and poet and there was an ocean of material from which to choose. The fact that it takes a stage full — nearly thirty incredibly talented actors, singers, and dancers — to portray the inner workings of one very complex man named Tupac is a testament to the depth and staying power of his work.

It also creates challenges in making this piece come to life in a comprehensible way. In numbers like “I Get Around” versus “Keep your Head Up” you have the men sing one song and the women sing the other embodying their struggles, but the glory of Tupac’s writing is that it was the same person writing both these misogynist words and the paean to women and motherhood, just at different moments.

The book is penned by Todd Kreidler, a frequent dramaturg for August Wilson, and it is most definitely not the life of Tupac Shakur, but it might be his times. And sadly, twenty years later the situation in inner cities among people of color is not significantly changed. If anything, time has eroded some of the protections and programs available to youth in the “ghetto.”

This work is not easy to leap into. You are thrown into the lives of panoply of characters and might struggle to figure out the arc of the plot. The better route is to give yourself over to the passion, glorious talent and rich text. By the second act you will certainly have become happily immersed.

The work opens with acclaimed poet Saul Williams as a character called John; he is high above the stage tethered to a cell in an orange prison jumpsuit. Williams is normally a solo performer who holds an audience with his silver tongue and adroit delivery, but on occasion in “Holler” it feels as if the words he is rapping are pushing him too fast and they get lost. But his presence is mighty.

He is up against the singing chops of none other than Tonya Pinkins, three-time Tony nominee, possessing a voice that snaps heads in her direction and keeps them focused there until her last note.

Then there is the only “white-boy” in the hood, played by the incredible Ben Thompson whose last Broadway role was the headmistress in “Matilda;” he brings humor, pathos, a great voice and fleet dancing feet. Christopher Jackson as Vertus is a big man with a bigger voice and charm to win the ladies and fight the gangs.

His other compatriots are the equally talented Joshua Boone as Darius and Dyllon Burnside as Anthony. Saycon Sengbloh plays John’s former girl and Darius’ current love and she has a duet with Saul Williams, ” Unconditional Love,” that is heartbreakingly beautiful.

The set by Edward Pierce is a flexible cityscape enhanced by Zachary Borovay’s projections and well-lit by Mike Baldassari. The choreography by Wayne Cilento of “Wicked” moves the cast, all of whom dance, sing, leap and bring the amazing words of Tupac Shakur to audiences who have waited too long to see Tupac’s work elevated to a Broadway level.

Although this piece is flawed by some disconnect in the first act, by the time the curtain comes down the crowd is raucous, grateful and energized.

“Holler if Ya Hear Me” enjoys an extended run at The Palace Theater, 1546 Broadway in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-730-8200 or visit http://hollerifyahearme.com/

 

Partnerships That Blend the Skills of Two Generations

*published on 17 May 2014 in the NYT by Marci Alboher

Wickham Boyle, 63, the vice president of Just Shea, and the company’s 31-year-old president are the driving force behind a business whose profits go to a related nonprofit, which helps protect women who harvest shea nuts. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

IN her late 50s, Wickham Boyle left her job as an editor to pursue a project she was passionate about, producing an opera about 9/11 based on a book she wrote. A few months later, when she was ready to go back to work, she discovered it wasn’t so easy to find her next gig. “Our play closed on the day Lehman crashed, and my world dissolved,” she said, recalling the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

But then she met Danielle Grace Warren, who, at 25, was involved in a project to improve conditions and business prospects for the 600,000 women in Ghana who work in the global trade of cosmetics and cooking products made from the nut of the shea tree.

The two discovered they were a perfect team, despite the differences in their ages. Four years later, Ms. Boyle, now 63 and vice president, and Ms. Warren, 31 and president, are the driving force behind Just Shea, a for-profit social business based in New York that markets shea products. The profits go to a related nonprofit, which provides, among other things, equipment to protect women who harvest shea nuts from snake bites, and microloans secured by crops stored in a cooperative silo.

Danielle Grace Warren has said that working alongside someone twice her age feels natural. Credit Dan Warren

They also defy the persistent stereotype about younger and older people battling over jobs in the still-shaky economy.

When these multigenerational ventures succeed, if is often because of the different sets of skills and perspectives that an older and younger person can bring to solving a problem.

Lara Galinsky, senior vice president of Echoing Green, which provides seed funding to emerging social entrepreneurs, says she frequently sees such partnerships. Though the average age of their applicants is 29 to 32, she explained, “When you unpeel the layers, there’s often someone older who’s been guiding them in a mentor role or as part of the founding team.”

According to Nancy Henkin, executive director of Temple University’s Intergenerational Center, this kind of working and thinking can be applied in ways that even go beyond a specific venture or project. “How do you build communities that are welcoming for people of all ages, and how do you engage people of all ages in a collective effort to make the community a good place for growing up and growing older?” she said. “Instead of a senior and a youth center, why not a vibrant community center where people come together and intentionally foster trust, empathy and interaction?”

Ms. Boyle said she felt an immediate connection to Ms. Warren and her project. She grew up traveling often to Ghana and other parts of West Africa and had spent most of her career in the nonprofit sector. Initially, she volunteered her time, making introductions to her network of contacts. After about six months, the two secured an angel investment from a family friend of Ms. Warren’s, which turned their cause into a venture. The two are paid the same salary, which rises and falls based on how fund-raising is going.

The company’s products are sold in stores like ABC Home and through the Just Shea website. Though the venture is gaining traction, Ms. Boyle still takes on outside freelancing work. “I do worry constantly about paying the bills, but I’ve had an incredibly interesting chock-a-block full life,” she said. “And I do have this loft, which is my pension, 401(k) and I.R.A. It’s a sadness, but at some point I will have to move out of the loft so that its sale will care for an old me.”

Ms. Warren says working alongside someone twice her age feels natural. She learned about being an entrepreneur from her father, who has run a series of small businesses, including a tropical flower farm in Florida and reforestation project in Haiti. When she was in college, her father invited her to Haiti to help develop an idea he had for a women’s resource center, to provide classes in sewing and other skills and information about health and nutrition. Ms. Warren’s family wasn’t rich, but playing this kind of role was a part of her upbringing. Ms. Boyle feels a similar comfort in the team. Her daughter is the same age as Ms. Warren.

When Ms. Boyle and Ms. Warren describe their respective contributions, they explain how their ages and life stages complement one another. They use Ms. Boyle’s loft as an office and meeting space, even as a place to hold fund-raising events. “I also have tons of contacts from a life lived across careers,” Ms. Boyle says. She found a chemist who turned the raw shea into a marketable product, for example. Ms. Warren, by contrast, has relationships with funders of organizations like theirs and with others working on similar globally oriented social ventures. With no children tying her to the United States, she can travel to Ghana for long periods of time to focus on local fund-raising opportunities and to work with their employee on the ground. “We share like mad,” Ms. Boyle said.

Housecalls for the Homebound, another venture led by people of different generations, is a medical practice serving geriatric patients in Brooklyn and Queens. It began four years ago because of conversations at a family dinner table. Daniel Stokar, now 26, was preparing to graduate from college. His grandfather, Samuel Lupin, now 75, was talking about retiring after more than 40 years as a physician. Most of his patients had aged along with him. Over time, he dedicated more of his practice to house calls, so his less mobile patients would not have to travel to doctor’s appointments. “This was an example of a glaring medical need not being met by very many doctors,” Dr. Lupin said.

Mr. Stokar proposed bringing on some younger physicians and medical staff and training them in Dr. Lupin’s approach to care. “When Daniel talked about ‘taking my practice to scale,’ so that we could help hundreds, perhaps thousands more patients, I had never even heard that phrase,” Dr. Lupin said. “That’s not a term my generation used.”

Each family member has a well-defined role. Dr. Lupin interviews and hires other doctors, and serves as a mentor to them. Daniel Stokar runs the business of office. And Daniel’s father, Avi Stokar, who is a software engineer and computer programmer, is the resident technology expert. He created the electronic medical system used by the practice to track patient data during the house call visits.

“It’s a real blend of the old and the new,” Dr. Lupin said. “What we are doing medically — the actual rendering of bedside care — is very old. But every other aspect of the delivery is modernized.”

Since its start (originally as Brooklyn Housecalls), Housecalls for the Homebound has brought on six additional doctors and a nurse practitioner and has provided care to about 800 patients. They have a model that provides doctors with a competitive salary, without requiring them to run a back office or do hospital rounds. And they are proud that they have been able to deliver good care at a low cost. “If we needed to, we could visit a patient in this category even weekly, for an entire year, for less than it costs in New York for a single hospitalization,” Dr. Lupin said. The group also provides consulting services to hospitals and other practices that want to emulate their model.

Two years ago, Dr. Lupin stopped going out on house calls, maintaining his role in managing the medical staff and consulting on difficult cases. On average, he says he is working about 15 to 20 hours a week. After 50 years practicing medicine, Dr. Lupin says this work is the most gratifying of his career. And he hopes it will be his legacy. “I can’t pass on my medical slot to my son-in-law and grandson, but I can pass on the project.”

Extraordinary Extremities

*published on April 15, 2014 in The Edge

Puppeteer Carlo Adinolfi will star in the world premiere of ’Extraordinary Extremeties’

Puppeteer Carlo Adinolfi will star in the world premiere of ’Extraordinary Extremeties’  (Source:Richard Termine)

 

The premise for this 60-minute one-man show is so fascinating that the play could prove difficult to live up to the evening’s backstory. “Extraordinary Extremities” is written and directed by Renee Philippi, who created the magical, “The Whale.”

This piece is designed and performed by solo-performer and puppeteer, Carlo Adinolfi. Add to this the lovely music composed by Lewis Finn and performed on stage by cellist Jeanette Stenson.

Author Philippi attempts to mesh the inspiring story
of Hugh Herr, the biomedical engineer whose legs were amputated after a climbing accident, and who now designs technologically advanced artificial limbs. The story aired on NPR and featured Herr as enthusing that he has over 20 different pairs of feet. “I feel fortunate that I can always look forward to having better and better feet,” he stated in his “Fresh Air” interview entitled, “The Double Amputee Who Designs Better Limbs.”

So artists and collaborators, Philippi and Adinolfi took this concept of many feet and tried to cobble (pun intended) together a tale of Geppetto, the woodcarver best known for making Pinocchio, into a tale of three mythic Greek tales, all with a hero who has different sets of legs. Are you with me?

What the audience sees on stage at the adorable SoHo Playhouse on Vandam Street (readers take note this is NOT the SoHo Rep, which is further downtown) is a complicated tale with very little script and lots of wonderful, imaginative props and stage scurrying. The children, teens mostly, seemed to laugh and love the madcap, crazy professor approach to pulling strings from hither and yon to make waves flow on the puppeteer’s workbench as he simultaneously bemoans having to now “do it all” as his beloved wife Donna has recently passed away.

The myths told in the briefest outlines are Andromeda and Perseus, Menelaus and Helen of Troy and finally a dive into a painted underworld with Orpheus and Eurydice. In every case the hero is outfitted with new legs, ingeniously clamped with mathematical compasses, or wooden hammers and metal extensions that shoot out and allow him as Orpheus to descend into the underworld to save his beloved.

The overarching theme is that in our modern over-charged world, we all wear so many hats and feet. We must all soldier on whether with our partners and helpmates or finally alone, and we can never give up.

That is an admirable theme and the attempted knitting of myth, reality and performance works on occasion, but the show is scant on words and too long on fussing without a full-throttled payoff. But golly we could all use some of those super exchangeable legs, for the days when our own just won’t carry us another step.

“Extraordinary Extremities” runs through May 31 at the Concrete Temple Theatre at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street in Manhattan. For information or tickets, call 212-691-1555 or visitwww.sohoplayhouse.com/event/0b01423ed6f716bdca8ab58e40d5dbaa/Extraordinary-Extremities

 

Mothers and Sons

*published on 27 Mar 2014 in The EDGE

Bobby Steggert and Frederick Weller in a scene from Terrence McNally’s ’Mothers and Sons’

Bobby Steggert and Frederick Weller in a scene from Terrence McNally’s ’Mothers and Sons’  (Source:Joan Marcus)

 

Terence McNally is one of the American playwrights who has chronicled the AIDS crisis from first whiff to full-blown plague, to the triple cocktail and now in his newest work “Mothers and Sons” he asks us to ponder the plight of those who remained and went on courageously to remake lives.

His newest work plays at the lovely jewel box John Golden Theater, where John Lee Beatty has installed an opulent Upper West Side apartment. Every New Yorker in the audience is ogling it, wondering how they might sneak in to live there during the day, vacate during the show, and return to luxuriate on the divan taking in the view of the park made manifest in the first scene.

In this opening salvo there is discomfort between Tyne Daly, who icily portrays the still grieving Catherine Gerard, mother of Andre, who passed away in the early years of the AIDS crisis and Andre’s former lover Cal Porter, the very adroit Fredrick Weller.

They address each other as Mrs. Gerard and Mr. Porter, even though Cal had been with Andre for eight years. The ice has not melted and to insure we note this, Catherine Gerard does not remove her enormous bear of a fur coat (costumes well done by Jess Goldstein) until nearly half way through the play, even when asked repeatedly to do so.

Catherine has arrived unannounced two decades after her son’s passing and it seems she wants to rant and rail and share her anger and disappointment with anyone who will give it an ear. At one point she tells Cal she could angrily deconstruct the horrors of a particular ottoman. She seems always cocked and ready to go off.

The dialogue at times skews to humor and the audience either titters or roars as the barbs and sadness give way to the kind of laughter we use to mask the real conversations and emotions roiling under the surface. In life we often wish for that outer layer of fur to protect us from both the fragility and fear we carry from decades of mourning the young.

Cal makes it clear that he waited to find love, all the time missing Andre. None of this is enough for Catherine, who wants revenge. She wants to know who gave this plague to her son and yet she seems to want no part of the logistics of the gay sexual rites in the early ’80s. Catherine is convinced that when she sent her son off to New York City he was not gay. This elicits uproarious laughter.

Finally Cal’s husband Will arrives with their super-sweet six-year-old son Bud (equally lovely Grayson Taylor) in tow. And there is some wonderful dialog discussing why being able to call someone “my husband” is such an enormous treat for Cal, who, at 15 years older than Will, never expected that he would get that right and privilege.

Bobby Steggert plays the boyish, ebullient and outspoken Will Ogden and we can see the difference in the two gay generations. Cal proffers that he never thought it would be possible for him to be a father, while Will never expected anything other than fatherhood. McNally effortlessly utilizes these simple facts to underscore the changes in a gay mindset, as he paints a picture of a changing world.

There are some great moments in this rather uneven play and
McNally reminds us in between the banter and bubble bath in the next room what is so crucial. “First it will be a chapter in a history book, then a paragraph, then a footnote… It’s already started to happen. I can feel it happening. All the raw edges of pain dulled, deadened, drained away.”

We need to remember that we lost an entire generation who might have been Einstein or Mozart, or the Top Chef, and that for those who remained there is a combination of guilt, a sense of as McNally says, “those who remain being punished enough.”

This newest work marks McNally’s 20th Broadway production. Many of his works have deconstructed the various stages of the AIDS crisis and he has done so consistently inserting humor where one would assume only a mordant sense of gloom could prevail.

“Mothers and Sons” adds to the “The Lisbon Traviata” (1989), “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991) and “Love! Valour! Compassion!”(1995) to create an important tapestry weaving the ongoing saga of decades in the fight against AIDS and the prejudice that shadowed it.

“Mothers and Sons” enjoys an extended run at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. For information or tickets, call 888-847-4869 or visit http://www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com

Stage Kiss: a review

*published on 7 Mar 2014 in The EDGE

Jessica Hecht and Dominic Fumusa

Jessica Hecht and Dominic Fumusa  (Source:Joan Marcus)

It is exciting to anticipate an evening in the theater watching a play written and directed by women.”Stage Kiss” is penned by the two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony nominee Sarah Ruhl and directed by Rebecca Taichman who recently helmed “Milk Like Sugar” and Nico Muhly’s amazing opera, “Dark Sisters.” This new work is the fourth in Playwrights Horizons 2013-2014 Season and it is a breath of spring that we all yearn for.

The play might best be described as a heartfelt comedy with extreme farcical leanings. It is a must-see for anyone who has worked in theater, as one is privy to many inside jokes of rehearsal mishaps, hissy fits, diva meltdowns and oh of course, the romances.

The play opens with an audition for a remounting of a 1930’s melodrama about a woman who is dying and summons her former lover to her opulent home. The character is called She and Jessica Hecht brings a loose-limbed and even looser-lipped portrayal that for the most part wins the evening. Hecht’s accents occasionally go array, but all to laughter. She is an aging actress who has taken time off to have and raise a daughter, now she is back with a vengeance.

It turns out She is cast against a male romantic lead, He, a man with whom she actually had a long, tumultuous affair before marrying her rich husband. And so begins and ensues the play within a play. He is so perfectly embodied by the amazing Dominic Fumusa, who many fell for in “Nurse Jackie.” The fun here is that with leading man sex appeal and serious acting bones, Fumusa also gets to be a clown and ham it up.

As the sexy kissing sizzles on stage, the affair rekindles between the real characters. Of course there are the farcical glitches, where He takes a pratfall on stage and breaks his leg. The very gay understudy, hilariously portrayed by Michael Cyril Creighton, gamely goes on attempting to recreate the magic of the stage kissing with a gaping mouth like a fish about to swallow prey.

Creighton also plays a pimp, a butler and a doctor, all to giggles and guffaws. It turns out the understudy is having an affair with the director, an aging, anything-goes hippie brought to listless life by Patrick Kerr. The circles of who is kissing whom continue until the curtain falls on Act I.

In Act II She and He have left their mates and thrown their lots in together, living once again in an actor’s hovel in Hell’s Kitchen. They are approached by the director to work in his newest play about to be produced by the hilarious sounding DAT Theater of Detroit. So the action moves to Motor City. There are some twists and turns all punctuated by a heartfelt denouement and original music composed and played by Todd Almond, which adds an air of zest to the evening and a sense of real melodrama to the 1930 portion of the play.

Excellent performances are turned in by Daniel Jenkins as the very dry husband and Emma Galvin, a tiny firecracker of an actress, taking on three roles. Rebecca Taichman keeps all the action going with wonderful side bits, the stuff that goes on in rehearsal, a serious scene playing out with other actors marking dance steps in the wings. This made the often-silly play seem so vibrant.

The set works wonderfully well, sometimes putting the real audience backstage and just as often using the paying patrons as audience in the on-stage production. The piano player moves from stage to a balcony and all of this in a small stage with not a bad seat in the house.

There was great laughter and applause heating up the winter and hastening spring. The Ruhl/Taichman team are wonderful and everyone needs more farce and kissing in their lives.

“Stage Kiss” runs through March 23 at Playwrights Horizons’ Mainstage Theater, 416 West 42nd Street. For tickets and information, visit https://www.ticketcentral.com/playwrightshorizons/

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

*published on 21 Mar 2013 on The EDGE

David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, and Billy Magnussen in ’Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, and Billy Magnussen in ’Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’  (Source:Carol Rosegg)

The new comedy by Christopher Durang with the tongue tripping title of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is a wild ride inside the overeducated, under edited author’s mind. If you love Durang’s irreverent, humor, which can bounce from sex to religion, to technophobia, to arcane commentary about the classics, all with lots of physical comedy thrown in for shits and giggles, then this work is for you.

Durang has corralled one of his long time collaborators, the very tall and funny Sigourney Weaver who has been a Durang muse since they were on the edges of Robert Brustein’s Yale Drama School back in the early ’70s. Brustein’s well-documented brutality to Weaver is more than alluded to in the play as they talk about the route and role her character Masha took, doing five sequels to a popular movie, rather those roles in Chekov for the stage dahling.

Often the problem with so many inside jokes is that the character of Masha has trouble distancing herself from the real live Sigourney playing her. And hence this character falls short and is perceptibly less funny than the other five incredible actors populating the stage.

The thin comedic backstory revolves around three siblings Vanya, Sonia and Masha who come together for a weekend in the Buck’s County house where they all grew up. Sonia was adopted, but yet she and her brother took care of their aging, Alzheimer-ridden parents while movie star Masha ventured forth to make and remake a “sex romp,” which sounds much like a less alien-ridden “Aliens.” It seems as if beyond a mere visit Masha has come home to put the family home up for sale. Not surprisingly the property has a few Chekhovian cherry trees on it and blue herons, which keep appearing.

Sonia is played with comedic genius by the beyond excellent Kristine Nielsen, another Yale Drama School grad, who has done Durang duty in the past and also has a raft of Broadway and off-Broadway credits. She is a welcome addition as the sister who gave up a life to care for her parents. She plays a mean Maggie Smith, wearing the hell out of a sequined dress and doing a monologue on the phone where you would swear another person was talking to her from backstage. She is also often the pivotal role and glue for great scenes.

The ever-strong David Hyde Pierce plays Vanya with understated comic ease. (It is a pleasure to see that neither Pierces’ nor Weaver’s Playbill Bio list film or television work, just reams of theater. KUDOS.)

Durang’s Vanya is an aging, gay man who often ogles the wonderful slice of cheesecake, Masha’s boy-toy Spike, embodied by Billy Magnussen. This kid will be a star if his heart holds up. His energy, verve, beauty and comic timing are a breath of fresh air. Magnussen literally jumps, runs, leaps and lunges everywhere and brings his guilelessness to further lighten many scenes.

The house is held together and often prophesized over by the erstwhile mad Cassandra, played with amazing comic timing and snarky edge by Shakti Grant. Like her Greek namesake, Cassandra often tells the future but no one in the house listens until the prophecy comes to fruition. This Julliard grad has been with this play in all of its incarnations from the McCarter to Lincoln Center and it is wonderful to see her now really own this role.

The final character to wander into this mad house is a young neighbor girl named, well you guessed it, Nina. Nina is a huge fan of Masha’s work and allows Masha to be humorously jealous and envious when Spike takes Nina home after a costume party. Nina is played by the fresh as a daisy Genevieve Angelson and she holds her own among the veterans.

At the costume party Marsha is Snow White, Spike is Prince Charming and Nina and Vanya, who Nina has taken to calling Uncle Vanya, are such funny dwarves. This is where and why Sonia gets her Maggie Smith on. There is not a lot of rhyme or reason to the loosely strung together play other than belly laughs and a template to explore families using the master of familial discord, Chekov, as a guide.

At one point a character commenting on the scenes being played out says, “If everyone took antidepressants Chekov would have had nothing to write about.” Perhaps that’s true, but then there would be different dramas to pen. Durang has balanced this work between the family drama of the past and the ranting times we live in.

The work is well directed by Nicholas Martin on the pitch-perfect country house set by David Korins. I took especial note of the wonderful music, composed just for this work by Mark Bennett, who also did the sound design.

This show is not perfect and there are moments when it drags and lags, but in general the laughs keep coming and finally, as Durang says, “You must always get your hopes up.”

Old Hats

*published on Mar 12 2013 on The EDGE

Bill Irwin, Nellie McKay and David Shiner

Bill Irwin, Nellie McKay and David Shiner  (Source:Joan Marcus)

Imagine all the laughter you have heard in your life and then play it back: titters, guffaws, giggles, bellows, erupting tee-hees, chortles, chuckles, snickers and snorts. Get ready, because you will hear all of it during the wondrous new work, “Old Hats.”

Bill Irwin is a treasure, he even possess a MacArthur genius grant to prove it. He is a genius at making us laugh. Irwin often partners with David Shiner in a sort of good clown, bad clown duo and this dynamic was in full evidence and directed with gusto by Tina Landau in their new production, their first collaboration since the acclaimed Broadway offering, “Fool Moon.”

Clowning has as many nuances as laughter. It can be dark and weird; hence so much fear of clowns, or it can reflect back our better, sillier, more absurd selves. For the most part we are privy to the lighter side of clowning in this full-length piece, which consists of a series of vignettes punctuated by an amazing little band led by the vibrant, uber-edgy Nellie McKay.

The show begins with a literal bang. Smoke, meteors and film engulf the two hapless clowns as they gambol across the stage in signature vaudeville suits and old, top hats. Even though both Irwin and Shiner are no longer young clowns, they are still spry and rubbery, all languid limbs providing the strength for juggling and miming. Shiner picks fights with a man in the audience, Irwin demurs, and they have a hat-flipping contest. All of it is hilarious, and yet words flatten the sensation of being in the presence of wild animals of comedy.

As the film screen engulfs both clowns, the band takes over providing an introduction to the next piece, a “Saturday Night Live” sort of mock political debate. As an example of songstress Nellie McKay’s edgy wit her song features a lyric about politicians singing, “Be nice and salute the flag or they will say you are a fag,” all sung in the sweetest voice with music whose melody is aptly reminiscent of vaudeville.

Politics segues to an Irwin solo called “Mr. Business” where a badly suited “Master of the Universe” fights with his cell phone and iPad. Each in turn tries to eat a part of him, photographs him and heckles him from the screen. The ubiquity of the experience is pitch perfect.

Following there was a long, bittersweet solo, called “Hobo,” by Shiner, whose Bavarian home base, may explain his connection to more traditional European clown traditions. Here Shiner embodies the classic sad sack sitting on a park bench rooting through the trash until he finds the fixings to create a mate from a booze bottle, broom handle and discarded cloth. He dances with his damsel until a strong wind carries, even her, off stage and we are all left with our existential solitude.

I applaud the wide variety of the show as it stretches to the humor of pathos, sidesplitting slapstick and political commentary. Directly following “Hobo,” (and there is no run order listed in the program, so I bet it may morph), McKay and her musical cohorts perform “Inner Peace,” an homage to those who, “care not a wit for those suffering in Ethiopia, all they want is inner peace.” It is performed at such a furious pace that all but a few choice phrases were lost, causing a reviewer to ask, when the musicians strolled at intermission, for the lyrics, which McKay attempted to sing in snatches between before moving to the next aisle.

More giant clown pants are featured, the costumes by G.W. Mercier as glorious, as Shiner and Irwin become old commuters waiting for a train and comparing the pills they consume and miming the results. Then Irwin is a crazed Italian waiter with bowls of recalcitrant pasta that spanned the edges of the stage, there is also a “Cowboy Cinema” where Shiner plucks audience members to populate a silent film to raucous results.

But the place where the aisles were littered with laughing bodies came with the skit called simply “Magic.” Shiner is an aging magician with a stringy ponytail wig and Irwin is his wifely assistant. Let me take a moment to praise the wigs and make-up, by Erin Kennedy-Lunsford, as Irwin and Shiner were eerily transformed. Irwin’s “lovely assistant” was part Cindy McCain, part Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and so wincingly perfect, casting gimlet eyes at any perceived rival for her unctuous man’s affections that between roars, one wonders at Irwin’s ability to see gestural nuance with such clarity.

Irwin and Shiner are truly a perfect pair and yet they were made even more beguiling, sharp, and touching by the addition of Nellie McKay’s sweet voice and astringent lyrics. As spring approaches and politics threaten to swamp our spirits, treat yourself to an evening of hilarity. We all deserve it.