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A CurtainUp Review
Humor Abuse


I have to warn you this is a show about clowning, and I am the straight man.— Lorenzo Pisoni
Humor Abuse
Lorenzo Pisoni
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Like Peter Pan searching for his shadow, Lorenzo Pisoni walks onto the stage in Humor Abuse looking for the elusive spotlight until he finally secures it in place. And like that restless youth he proceeds to weave a web that captures our imagination, our longing and our joy in life.

Pisoni's one-man show, which he created with director Erica Schmidt, is based on his vagabond life as the youngest member of the San Francisco based Pickle Family Circus. His father, the descendent of an Italian immigrant whose vaudeville act incorporated the grand tradition of commedia dell'arte, was a sad and silent clown whose specialty lay in double-takes, tripping and falling. Young Lorenzo was often the victim of his father's humor — until he became part of the act.

In the circus and under his father's tutelage, Lorenzo learned not only clowning but also juggling, staff twirling, tap dancing, acrobatics, balancing and prestidigitation — all talents that he impressively displays in Humor Abuse. But Pisoni's exacting and angry father also taught his son that humor can be cruel and fathers distant and insensitive. In fact Pisoni may be the only boy who ever tried to run away from the circus — in footsie pajamas, no less.

With disarming candor Pisoni tells how he first signed a contract with his father, replaced his father's puppet when the real puppet lost its nose, endured his parents' separation and tried for a while to be a "normal" teenager so he could wear a lettered sweater and go to the prom. But blood will tell, and Pisoni was unable to escape his fate.

One doesn't have to be Freud to pick up Oedipal implications in Pisoni's efforts to imitate and perhaps supplant his father. Nor is it necessary to be a literary genius to see the coming-of-age story beneath the tricks and jokes. But the main attraction in this show is simply Pisoni's tremendous talent as an entertainer.

Pisoni tap dances in a gorilla suit, juggles clubs and pieces of carrot, and performs various hat tricks, including balancing the bowler on his nose and sending it rolling across his shoulders. Schmidt has enhanced the show with projections, offstage voices and sound effects. But Pisoni really doesn't need much backup. The breathtaking highlights of the show are Pisoni's daredevil feats.

At one point, Pisoni, clad in flippers and swimming goggles, climbs a ladder with feigned difficulty and finally reaches the top only to come crashing down with the ladder on top of him. A few minutes later, none the worse for his fall, Pisoni repeats his father's sandbag trick, narrowly avoiding weighted bags that seem to fall randomly from the fly space while he stumbles around the stage trying to blow up a balloon.

Peter Pan stayed young forever by remaining in Neverland. In the real world this is not a possibility. But with the help of circus entertainers like Lorenzo Pisoni, we can grow up into ladies and gentlemen and from time to time become "children of all ages."

Humor Abuse
Created by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt Pperformed by Mr. Pisoni
Directed by Ms. Schmidt
Lighting by Ben Stanton
Sound by Bart Fasbender
Production stage manager: Hannah Cohen
Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
Manhattan Theater Club City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, (212) 581-1212. Tickets are $52. Student tickets are $25 Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 PM. Matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 PM. From 2/22/09; opening 3/10/09; closing 4/19/09. Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons 3/13/09
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