Old Hats

I could not have started with a bigger grin on my face at the top of this show. As the curtain was drawn, it was like the corners of my mouth were drawn with it, pulled up as high as they could go, and I didn’t stop smiling for the entirety of the performance. I wrote in my previous blog post that Here Lies Love hits the ground running. Well, these two actors literally hit the ground running, and it is instant comedy. Thanks to a few friends absolutely insisting that this show was not to be missed, I made it a priority, and I’m happy to report that you should too, if only to have the opportunity to see these two men share a craft that’s more and more difficult to find in mainstream theatre.

Old Hats stars the immensely talented Bill Irwin and David Shiner and is now extended through June 9th (Playbill has a $60 offer if you’re looking to save a little money. Sign up if you don’t have an account). I was immediately captivated by them. They have the audience in the palms of their hands from the first moment, and it is miraculous to witness. This piece is like a master class in comedy, watching two genius clowns do an incredible dance. Not a word is spoken, but hundreds of stories are told. Yeah, yeah, I know how cliché that sounds. Deal with it. From a businessman to a hobo to a magician and his assistant, they transform from sketch to sketch, and it’s like seeing your favorite cartoons brought to life before your eyes.

A kick-ass band led by Nellie McKay accompanies the sketches and is featured between them. I really want this girl’s job. She has a Regina Spektor-type vibe to her voice, and the jazzy blues keep your toes tapping from scene to scene. There are moments when the music is so in sync with the sketches that it’s as if the actors are creating the sounds with their bodies. Speaking of which, I want to give a shout-out to the sound and lighting team. They have a ridiculously hard job. Those cues are crucial for the comedy to work and the punch“lines” to land.

I cannot stress enough what a pleasure it is to watch these two play off each other. Whether it’s a simple magic trick or bringing a person to life out of a rag and beer bottle, they are a wonder to watch. The sketches are a mix of classic clowning we already know and love and modern age clowning involving projections and iPads. I should also mention that the audience interaction is priceless. Unlike the plants used in One Man, Two Guvnors (as funny as that was), Bill and David are working with fresh, clueless audience members every night (they’re definitely not plants; my friend was pulled up on stage when she went). They were handled with such care that I never felt uncomfortable for the participants or feared they would be embarrassed, and it set up the building blocks for enormously funny comedy, especially in the second act.

There is so much more I want to say about individual bits and scenes, but I don’t want to give anything else away! I guess you’ll just have to check it out for yourselves. I’ll leave you with this: a copious amount of spaghetti is always funny. Always.

Old Hats
Created by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, Directed by Tina Landau
Signature Theatre Company
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Bill Irwin and David Shiner

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