Old Hats: Two Master Clowns, Bill Irwin and David Shiner

old hats

Let’s say that there was some kind of technology that no matter what your mood, no matter how lousy you were feeling, for two hours it would make you smile and laugh continually. Then let’s say the machine blew up and didn’t work anymore. Would you be upset?

Well, you shouldn’t be. Because the current play Old Hats Off-Broadway has exactly the same effect sans technology, and you still have a chance to see it. You will thoroughly enjoy yourself and leave a happier person for the experience.

Bill Irwin and David Shiner are two really terrific entertainers who present an evening of silent physical comedy in the manner of the classic vaudeville and music hall comedians. Think Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Now I know I tend to get hyperbolic in my enthusiasms, but I tell you we mortals are truly blessed to be alive at the same time as Irwin and Shiner. If you live in the New York City area, you will see two superb clowns the likes of whom I’ll wager you won’t see equaled on the stage. And, as an added bonus, the show enlists the talents of singer-songwriter-accordionist Shaina Taub,  a composer whose taste in lyric writing runs to Brechtian mordant cheeriness. Her dry cynicism contrasts nicely with the slap-happy Irwin and Shiner.

My favorite sketch (natch!) was “The Magician and His Assistant,” clearly inspired by Johnny and Pam Thompson’s “Great Tomsoni” act. Bill Irwin makes a sexier gun-chewing blonde assistant than Pam herself. Probably the biggest laugh in the show comes as David Shiner, who plays the magician, attempts to make an old-fashioned radio levitate—I won’t spoil the ending, but it brought down the house.  They also do a sawing-a-woman-in-two act with a woman from the audience. At first, I thought she was a stooge, but later, as they called up more audience volunteers for other sketches, it became clear that Irwin and Shiner do a very nice job of cueing and instant-stooging the audience volunteers. Steve Cuiffo is  listed in the program as the magical consultant, and you can see the thought that was given to making the sketch hilarious without revealing anything that shouldn’t be revealed.

One other wonderful sketch was of two political candidates debating, each one attempting to one-up the other. Believe it or not, the sketch was actually more ridiculous than the current Republican efforts, no mean feat.

The two clowns, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, who worked together in their play Fool Moon over twenty years ago, are now, almost unbelievably, both in their early 60s. In an age-defying way, they dance, pull physical sight gags, and knockabout in ways that would be impressive for someone half their age. It’s a must see. Hot tip: limited TDF tix are available.