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The MTC world premiere of HUMOR ABUSE opened last night at New York City Center – Stage II and received a glowing review in today’s New York Times.


Below is the review by Charles Isherwood.






March 11, 2009


Pratfalling Through an Eccentric Childhood, the Son of a Clown



Nobody is born in a trunk anymore, to use the old expression describing an immersion from early childhood in showbiz. But Lorenzo Pisoni, the star and co-author of the new solo show “Humor Abuse,” came pretty darn close. Mr. Pisoni spent a good portion of his early childhood locked in a trunk – yes, an actual trunk – strapped to his father’s back.


Don’t worry. Dad was not a monster mixing exercise with a penchant for brutality. He was a professional clown – white makeup, red rubber nose and all – and the opening of his act involved having his son pop out of a steamer trunk Dad carried onstage on his back.


Memoirs of lost, traumatic or misspent youth have become a numbingly familiar stage staple, but Mr. Pisoni, who created this endearing show with its director, Erica Schmidt, certainly has a fresh angle. While other kids were frolicking in the schoolyard, little Lorenzo was practicing pratfalls. To earn a bowl of ice cream, he had to become a master of the double take.


In “Humor Abuse,” which opened on Tuesday night at City Center under the auspices of Manhattan Theater Club, Mr. Pisoni shuffles amiably through a scrapbook of memories from his eccentric childhood while proffering a few deftly turned samples of the clown’s craft. Once a juggler, always a juggler, although Mr. Pisoni has been cursed with the kind of Arrow-shirt-model looks that probably spelled doom for a serious career in funny business. He has long since left behind his baggy-panted past to become a legit actor. (He has a long list of Off Broadway and regional credits and was the lead man-horse in this season’s Broadway revival of “Equus.”)


Mr. Pisoni comes from a family of vaudevillians. His father, Larry, grew up on Long Island and ran away to the city at 15. He ended up in San Francisco as the entrepreneur and star of the Pickle Family Circus, a small outfit that performed classic routines outdoors, mostly to benefit philanthropic organizations. Young Lorenzo was conscripted into the act to stop him from beguiling audiences with his own bits during intermission, keeping them in their seats rather than at the concession stand, where the troupe made its money.


Mr. Pisoni speaks with warm affection of the early years of his informal apprenticeship. Adorable photographs projected onto the antiqued curtain used as a backdrop reveal father and son rehearsing and performing in the open air. But the child’s impulse to emulate his father, to test his ability to fill Dad’s (floppy) shoes, became codified into a career when his father and mother, who also worked in the circus, sat their boy down at age 6 and asked him to sign a contract to become a performing partner.


“These were the greatest years,” Mr. Pisoni recalls, as father and son toured the country, eating meals together in their camper, working up new routines and performing them by night. But there are indications that the ego of the clown sometimes got in the way of the sensitive father. Larry’s primary clown persona, after all, was named Lorenzo Pickle. He insisted that his son be outfitted as a miniature version of himself. And what is a kid supposed to think when his father packs a plastic banana in his lunch, not once (ha, ha) but every single day?


At a little over an hour, “Humor Abuse” is split evenly between reminiscences and re-enactments of routines. At the top of the show Mr. Pisoni confesses that he’s not, ahem, actually funny. Untrue, and yet he’s not really a natural goof either.


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. He juggles, he performs pratfalls, he flings himself in and out of the trunk that is the main feature of the set. He dodges sandbags that drop from the ceiling and balances a hat on the tip of his nose. Funny business is “serious business,” he says more than once, and it can be backbreaking work, too. (Literally – Mr. Pisoni’s father actually suffered such an injury.)


Blended with the tenderness in Mr. Pisoni’s stage memoir is a sense of relief at having survived a singular ordeal. As he remarks ruefully at one point, once upon a time kids dreamed of running away to the circus. It took the young Mr. Pisoni a while to find the courage to run away from it.



Created by Lorenzo Pisoni and Erica Schmidt; performed by Mr. Pisoni; directed by Ms. Schmidt; lighting by Ben Stanton; sound by Bart Fasbender; production stage manager, Hannah Cohen; production manager, Kurt Gardner; general manager, Florie Seery; associate artistic director, Mandy Greenfield. Presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director. At the Manhattan Theater Club at City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan, (212) 581-1212. Through April 12. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.  




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