Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Humor Abuse

Grade: B+/B

by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt. Directed by Schmidt. At Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II. (CLOSED)

While some critics feel that the divorce-and-domestic-drama story at the heart of Humor Abuse is trite (and shallowly explored), most are quite taken with Lorenzo Pisoni's one man show about growing up the good looking, not-naturally-funny child of a clown. Everyone except for Charles Isherwood at the Times is quite impressed with Pisoni's clowning abilities, and the several clowning routines he puts into the show. Adam Feldman at Time Out feels that Pisoni is too good looking for his own material.

TheaterMania A
(Brian Scott Lipton) Utterly charming, absorbing, and sometimes hilarious ... the physically versatile Pisoni marvelously recreates some of his own circus routines, including a supremely silly bit in which he climbed a tall ladder in oversized fins that kept falling off. But the show's true highlight comes towards the end, when he executes his father's rather remarkable exercise in derring-do, narrowly missing sandbag after sandbag as they descend from the ceiling.

Backstage A
(Erik Haagensen) Humor Abuse, a title with nicely multifaceted meaning, is about much more than clown routines. At its heart it's an examination of a unique father-son relationship. Pisoni was his father's performance partner from age 6 to 10, and apparently he felt he knew more about Lorenzo Pickle than he did about Lawrence Pisoni. When their act is suddenly sundered by divorce, more complications ensue, some of which continue to this day. To their great credit, Schmidt, who also directed, and Pisoni address the difficulties between father and son in a clear-eyed, understated manner. Humor Abuse, which has not an ounce of fat on it, is all the more affecting for its emotional restraint.

TalkinBroadway A-
(Matthew Murray) Humor Abuse contains more clean, concentrated, and honest laughs than most any other new show this season, and that couldn't happen without a keen comic presence at its center. So what if Lorenzo is still charging his own personal star? His show comes close to being electric the more he and his father work the generator together.

Associated Press B+
(Michael Kuchwara) Humor Abuse transcends the traditional show-biz saga to become a more universal tale. It becomes the heartfelt story of a son searching for what made his father tick -- and finding out he would never quite find the answer.

Variety B+
(Sam Thielman) After trying to escape from his clown family as a child, Lorenzo Pisoni wore a button reading "I belong to the circus" by order of his father. For better or worse, this appears to be true: Humor Abuse is a clown show of the highest order, but it's also Pisoni's autobiography. As the performer limns his difficult relationship with his dad, he breaks out a top-tier ladder routine, a terrifying series of falling sandbag gags and plenty of expert pratfalls. Other solo performers, take note: You can describe your troubled childhood, but can you do it with balloons?

Theater News Online B
(David Lefkowitz) At just over an hour, Humor Abuse is the rare show that runs exactly as long as it should and not a minute longer (take heed, God of Carnage, Exit the King, Marvelous Wonderettes, et al.). If anything's lacking, it's more material about Peggy Snider, Lorenzo's mother. Since the play is so personal and often concentrates on family life, it's lopsided of Pisoni and co-creator Erica Schmidt to offer such a strong sense of dad and such a vague sense of mom - especially since she, too, performed in the circus, is now an active photographer and ceramic sculptor, and lets her daughter and 11-year-old granddaughter both carry on in the circus tradition. One suspects that for all the bad times, these Pickles are never more than half-sour.

NYTimes B
(Charles Isherwood) Some of the comic routines — particularly a long bit involving goggles, flippers and a ladder that young Lorenzo performed on his own after his father left the circus — may try the patience of the clowning-allergic. And when Mr. Pisoni describes the dissolution of his parents’ marriage, the show begins to cover well-worn broken-family territory, although the sawdust backdrop provides a novel twist even for the familiar stories of familial regret, estrangement and decline. Physically, Mr. Pisoni’s performance is breathtaking.

American Theater Web B-
(Andy Propst) As successful as this and several other extended clowning segments of Humor are, though, the piece's narrative as a whole disappoints. There's something rag-tag not only about the set but the arrangement of the stories that Pisoni relates, including his father's ultimate dismissal from the circus and the performer's reconciliation with the clowning tradition into which he was born. Theoretically, there's emotional potency at to be found in "Humor," but Pisoni and Schmidt, who's also directed, have yet to fully channel the anecdotes and physical humor into what could be a devastatingly funny and moving one-man show.

Time Out C+
(Adam Feldman) This familiar distant-father scenario, which dominates the script that Pisoni has cowritten with director Erica Schmidt, is charmingly illustrated via slide projections and other diverting stage business. And Pisoni does everything he can to make the play more than a self-pitying history of life with bozo: He juggles, he tap-dances, he does standing backflips, he re-creates several old clown routines. Pisoni is likable and skilled—but you always see him working hard, Guy Smiley in a part made for Gonzo.

NY Daily News C+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Pisoni, an actor who recently wrapped a role in Equus, is a strong, punchy writer and is good at describing moments from the past, which are underscored by vintage photographs projected during the show. On the other hand, he tends to skim the surface as if to avoid details. It makes the show seem distant at times and leaves you wondering: How did an 11-year-old go on the road without a guardian - and how did that feel? What's his relationship like with his father today? How'd he get into acting?

TM A 13; BS A 13; TB A- 12; AP B+ 11; VAR B+ 11; TNO B 10; NYT B 10; ATW B- 9; TONY C+ 8; NYDN C+ 8; TOTAL 105 / 10 = 10.5 (B+/B)

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