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A CurtainUp Review

Te Regard Evening
By Jenny Sandman

Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
The second of Bill Irwin's shows since taking up residence at the Signature Theatre Company is a reprise of The Regard of Flight, which first premiered twenty years ago and established Irwin as a master clown. The evening reunites Irwin with the original performers, Doug Skinner and Michael O'Connor. To further cement his reputation, there's a post-intermission second act, aptly calleded In The Same Regard.

The evening begins with Irwin in bed, in red striped pajamas and nightcap. He tosses and turns, falls asleep then wakes up to find himself on stage-- an experience that's every performer's worst nightmare. With him are the Musical Director (Skinner) and the Critic (O'Connor). The Musical Director keeps Irwin hopping, while he plays the ukulele and lectures the audience on "New Theatre"and Postmodernism. Skinner, dryly humorous and straight-faced to the last, is hysterical. He serves as a narrator of sorts, commenting on the action while at the same time regulating it. By playing music, pressing buzzers, quizzing Irwin, and giving him directions, he keeps Irwin in a whirlwind of confused activity.

The Critic keeps interrupting the action, asking Irwin questions and attempting to discern the "central metaphor" of the piece. (In his own fairly blatant metaphor, the Critic keeps trying to stuff Irwin into a box). Eventually the Critic becomes Irwin's nemesis, hounding and chasing him. Unable to enjoy the performance for what it is, he keeps trying to find its "real" meaning, and so Irwin's every attempt to be entertaining and lighthearted is cut short.

The second and shorter piece takes place twenty years later again features Irwin, Skinner and O'Connor. In keeping with the forward move of time, the trio now lampoons computers, Social Security and cell phones.

All the Irwin staples are present--his trunk of surprises, his hat tricks and baggy pants, his famously elastic facial expressions. His physical humor is delightfully self-referential. While discussing ways to escape his "devices" he uses each of them to full advantage. In the process, he skewers theatrical conventions and self-righteous critics.

In addition to the magnificent performances, the production values are joyfully minimalist. Set designer Douglas Stein has skillfully incorporated devices such as springboards, trap doors and escape hatches into the stage itself -- and, in one instance, offstage. Catherine Zuber's costumes for Irwin are winsome. The Music Director's business-like suit nicely contrasts the Critic's more gaudy getup. Nancy Schertler's lighting and Brett R. Jarvis's sound design emphasize the perfect comic timing.

The Regard Evening manages to be both silly and intellectually stimulating, affording the audience a rare sense of fulfillment. So much humor these days can only be classified a guilty pleasure, but this show is pure pleasure.

Editor's Note: I was Jenny's companion at The Regard Evening, and found it as enjoyable and well done as she did. My only additions to her comments would be to point out that there were two other "performers" worth mentioning -- a droll alter-ego puppet named Eddie for Doug Skinner which gives him a chance to show off his skills as a ventriloquist and a delightful puppet-version of Bill Irwin courtesy of the talented pupeteer Roman Paska. It's also worth noting that with the holiday season approaching, this is a show kids from ages six and up would enjoy -- especially if they're lucky enough to have Irwin and the Critic take their foray off stage into the row in which they're sitting (which happened to the delight of one family of four at the performance we attended). For my review of, Harlequin Studies, the first of Irwin's three Signature Theater shows go here. -- Elyse Sommer

Created in collaboration with Doug Skinner, Michael O'Connor and Nancy Harrington
Directed by Bill Irwin With Bill Irwin, Michael O'Connor and Doug Skinner
Set Design by Douglas Stein
Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Music by Doug Skinner
Sound Design by Brett R. Jarvis
Running time: 95 minutes with one intermission
Signature Theatre Company, 555 West 42nd Street; 212-244-7529
From 12/03/03 through 1/25/04--extended to 2/01/04; opening 12/15/03 --$60. Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on December 12th press performance

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