This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

27Mar/13

OLD HATS

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Bill Irwin, Nellie McKay, and David Shriner clown around in Signature Theatre’s OLD HATS (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Irene Diamond Stage
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Through May 9, $75
212-244-7529
www.signaturetheatre.org

Full Moon clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner are back together again, transforming the Irene Diamond Stage at the Signature Theatre into a rollicking vaudeville house in Old Hats. Irwin, who graduated from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and cut his teeth with the Pickle Family Circus, and Shiner, a Cirque du Soleil veteran, have teamed up with London-born composer, performer, activist, and satirist Nellie McKay for a wildly funny two-hour show made up of comic sketches, live music, and a little mayhem. Irwin, the 2003-04 playwright-in-residence at the Signature, and Shiner alternate solo and duo skits with new and old songs by McKay, who plays piano and ukulele leading her band, which features Alexi David on bass, Mike Dobson on percussion, Tivon Pennicott on sax and flute, and Kenneth Salters on drums. Over the course of the night, Irwin and Shiner run from a boulder chasing them down on a back screen à la Indian Jones (courtesy of projection designer Wendall K. Harrington), participate in a silly magic act and an even sillier political debate, and turn into their own funhouse mirrors while waiting for a train. In “The Businessman,” Irwin interacts with his own small image on an iPhone and iPad and much larger depiction on the back screen, wonderfully integrating modern technology into a riotous little tale that holds some delicious surprises. In “Cowboy Cinema,” the longest piece, Shiner picks out a group of people from the audience to enact an old-fashioned silent Western movie scene, with uproarious results. Meanwhile, McKay plays such tunes as “Mother of Pearl,” “Bodega,” and “Dispossessed” in between sketches, her delightfully high-pitched voice and wickedly bold sense of humor putting her on equal footing with Irwin and Shiner instead of just being a time killer during set changes and intermission. “If you would sit oh so close to me / That would be nice like it’s supposed to be / If you don’t I’ll slit your throat / So won't you please be nice?” she sings on “Won’t U Please B Nice?” Directed by Tina Landau (Superior Donuts, A Civil War Christmas), Old Hats flows virtually seamlessly, providing lots of laughs and “Can you top this?” moments generated by a pair of very clever clowns and a sly and sassy chanteuse.

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