A THREE-RING ONE-MAN SHOW
Start with a true story about a family circus that shot to prominence even though it eschewed big-business-conglomerate backing, ran in a single ring without exotic animals, and interacted with and embraced the communities where it performed. Spice it up with superbly executed acrobatics. Top it off by having it performed by one who was there a generation ago. Then set it in a recently renovated theater complete with state-of-the-art equipment. Now you have A.C.T.’s Humor Abuse, a one-man show that’s unique, entertaining, engrossing and fun. Look back in time and enjoy.
The clear-voiced and nimble-footed Lorenzo Pisoni was born into the Pickle Family Circus, founded by his parents Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider. The child grew up wanting to do it all – tumbling, clowning, music, and even the business side of things. He got his education between shows and, more to the point, absorbed both his father’s roles and psyche, and rode out the emotional upheavals that came from fiercely guarding his privacy in vain, his parents’ divorce, and his own youth in the spotlight. Pisoni tells the story with the conviction and authenticity that comes from having lived it. With his conversational, intimate approach, I felt as though we could have been sitting in front of the living room fireplace sharing a glass of wine and Pisoni’s memories, good and bittersweet, with me not wanting to miss a moment.
It’s a stunning, affectionate, and impactful retelling of a provocative father-and-son story. Historical photos of father Larry in his clown makeup being intently watched by an adoring little Lorenzo add dimensions to what is essentially a documentary dressed as a theatrical production. There’s plentiful fodder for history buffs besides the pioneering Pickle Family Circus, including a rundown of the great clowns from Pantalone on. Pisoni is also a masterful actor, utilizing both the impact of silence and the single, telling facial expression; a tiny tilt of his eyebrow or a cock of his head spoke volumes and drew raucous laughter or thoughtful silence from the audience.
Pisoni dexterously enacts both his own routines and those made famous by his father; the act in which he dons green flippers before trying to scale a tall ladder can’t help but tickle funny bones, and the routine with a staircase and armfuls of suitcases is hilarious, daring, and delightful. Pisoni’s acrobatic and gymnastic skills offer more breath-catching moments than the average Cirque spectacular: He scales stairs, slips in and out of trapdoors and hidden exits, and reappears in a multitude of locations. He even makes such astounding use of audience members in the front row that you will bet they are plants.
Pisoni is a master juggler, tossing and stirring this satisfying potpourri of humor, poignancy, biography, recent history and entertainment – all within the beating heart of an amazing personal story. While co-creator and director Erica Schmidt is certainly to be credited, it is Pisoni who never drops the ball.
photos by Chris Bennion
American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco
scheduled to end on August19, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.act-sf.org