Two master clowns bring their enormous talents to American Conservatory Theater's West Coast premiere of "Old Hats."
Created and performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, "Old Hats" is a series of sketches with musical interludes by the pert, personable Shaina Taub and four other musicians. These interludes give the two clowns and the stage crew a chance to set up for the next scene. Taub also wrote the music and lyrics. Her songs are generally upbeat and appealing, but a few of her lyrics suffer from a few four-letter words.
The two-act show, directed by Tina Landau, opens with Irwin and Shiner apparently battling and being sucked up by the cosmos. It is followed by "The Debate," in which two politicians do everything they can to promote themselves and undermine their competitor.
Most of the scenes that follow are both poignant and hilarious. One highlight is "Mr. Business," in which Irwin portrays a businessman totally absorbed by his tablet computer, which starts to follow its own path. Shiner follows in "Hobo Puppet Waltz," where a down-on-his luck man rummages through a trash bin to find both trash and the means to create a puppet woman.
With Shiner as a magician (effects by Steve Cuiffo) and Irwin in drag as his assistant, they enlist a woman from the audience to take part in "The Magic Act" with hilarious results. The two return in "The Encounter," involving two aging men in baggy pants who are waiting for a train.
Several other scenes follow. The least successful is "Cowboy Cinema." In this scene, Shiner is a silent-movie director who drafts four audience members to take part in a Western shoot-em-up in a saloon. This one goes on too long, losing its impact.
Taub and her talented band take part in some of the concluding scenes, ending with a tap routine by Taub and the two clowns.
This production by Signature Theatre of New York City features sets and costumes by G.W. Mercier with lighting by Scott Zielinski and sound by John Gromada. The Foley design of ambient sounds is by Mike Dobson. Wendall K. Harrington and Erik Pearson designed the inventive projections.
"Old Hats" is a most enjoyable way for ACT to launch its 47th season in San Francisco.
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