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Signature Theatre Presents "Old Hats", Starring Bill Irwin and David Shiner, at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents "Old Hats", Starring Bill Irwin and David Shiner, at The Pershing Square Signature Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Salon Ziba

200 West 57th Street
New York, NY
485 6th Ave.(12th St.)
New York, NY 10011
Open seven days a week
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Signature Theatre Presents:
Old Hats

Created and Performed by:
Bill Irwin and David Shiner

Music by and Featuring:
Nellie McKay

Directed by Tina Landau

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Scenic & Costume Design: G.W. Mercier
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: John Gromada
Projection Design: Wendall K. Harrington
Production Stage Manager: David H. Lurie
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 9, 2013 Matinee

I arrived at Pershing Square Signature Center not really anticipating such a truly hilarious and richly talented show. Having missed Fool Moon, another vaudevillian clown show, created and performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, I was a bit apprehensive, expecting some mime and some juggling. As it unfolded, Old Hats, which was also a vaudevillian clown show, was just too good to end. The audience was not only enthused, but even recruited for some of the spoofs. Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner created numerous skits, each introduced with a red velvet, gold fringed curtain. With the help of Wendell K. Harrington’s sensational, melodramatic projections, Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner arrive with screen images of giant rocks tumbling toward them, and the level of professionalism and detail were immediately astounding. Both men wear, throughout the show, variations on baggy or starched grey suits, that have short pants legs, stripes or plaids, big vests, and giant red poppies. G.W. Mercier’s costumes, and sets, as well, make each scene authentically burlesque and ebullient.

Most skits feature both Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner, in madcap confrontations, like two politicians at podiums, with arrows that seem like poll counters, pointing to the man who’s winning audience votes. Of course, props are pulled out to add luster to the mime, like a wild eagle and a baby to kiss. In many skits one of the actors eyes an audience member (or planted assistant) to add serendipitous surprises to the bit. Like lemon sherbet palate refreshers, Nellie McKay, pianist, vocalist, skit enhancer, and ukulele player, embellishes the skit interludes with elegant soft songs, tinged with black humor. Songs about women getting devilish revenge brought the house down. Her band, including musicians on bass, percussion, saxophone, flute, and drums, even now and then joined the onstage comedy. At one point they crooned like a boy band, with Nellie on ukulele, and at another point, the drummer became a silent bartender, in an audience participation cowboy bit. This involved bringing on a “gal”, her cowboy “guy”, another cowboy “guy”, who’s jealous, and a “movie” hand, to time the scenes. Mr. Shiner was the clown orchestrating this skit, that lasted for much of the second act. But, the audience loved seeing what seemed unrehearsed, although the chosen “gal” and “guys” flirted, shot finger guns, fell, and generally grandstanded with ease.

One of Mr. Shiner’s solos was a skit called “The Hobo”, with the requisite park bench, trash can, and melted clownish grimace. He finds a cellphone in the trash, calls 911, and throws the phone away. A long-stem red rose shrivels and dies in his hands, but he turns two sticks and some cloth into the body of a fantasy woman, with his paper bagged bottle as her head, while she wipes his tears. This moment of pathos drew a rare hush and thick connection with his audience. One solo of Mr. Irwin’s was the use of dynamic media, a cellphone and iPad, with close-ups of Mr. Irwin’s rubbery stretched face in farcical shapes, plus tiny likenesses of Mr. Irwin’s whole body, running off and back onto the screen, to sound prompts. In fact, Tina Landau’s tight direction keeps most of the show, with the exception of the endless cowboy shooting, audience participation skit, completely collaborative. The band and John Gromada’s sound design add auditory effects to the mayhem with split-timed precision. It’s obvious that no two shows will be the same, with so many opportunities for participation and improvisation. When Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner did fancy hat tricks, sliding the top hats up and down their arms, then tossing them high to land on their heads, the results weren’t always perfect, but they expanded those moments with panache. This is a seasoned duo, and, with Ms. McKay and her band, an extraordinary show. Kudos to all.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at