I remember going to the circus with my parents when I was about ten years old and thinking how wonderful it would be to run away and join a circus and just have fun with all the animals and the clowns. But I didn’t like clowns. I thought they did stupid things and they weren’t funny. Except for Emmett Kelly – a sad sack tramp who swept up his spotlight into smaller and smaller circles trying to make it disappear.
In his one man, theatrical tribute to his clown heritage, Humor Abuse – directed and co-created by Erica Schmidt, Lorenzo Pisoni didn’t have to run away to join a circus, he was born into one and in fact tried to run away from the circus early on but was persuaded to return by his father.
On a set that resembles a European one ring circus, with some colored lights hanging above and with an old steamer trunk which enables Lorenzo to find props and pieces of costumes to recreate some of his father’s routines while reminiscing about the rather cold and uncommunicative man, that he obviously loves but has issues with, we learn about Lorenzo’s early life in the Pickle Family Circus.
Lorenzo does not look like your typical clown. He is tall and handsome. Well built. He claims to be not funny. He is. He claims to sweat a lot. He does. With the use of vintage slide projections we see little Lorenzo at two making his debut during intermission. The photos are terrific visuals that accompany Lorenzo’s poignant recollections of his dad, his mom, eating pancakes, learning to act like a dummy, learning to do a double take, juggling, tap dancing in a gorilla suit, doing back flips, dealing with balloons and the infamous Pickle Hat – made of red felt and garden hose by his mother that he had to learn to balance on the tip of his fake red nose. Until he could. He can.
It’s an odd yet interesting life. One that he wasn’t entirely happy or unhappy with. Lorenzo does justice to his self-centered father’s memory and performs the routines with finesse and bravado. In 75 minutes.
We don’t learn much about his mother or sister. His parents separated when he was only ten. Lorenzo then went out on the road alone where he missed his on stage father terribly. The closeness they had when he was in the trunk that his father carried on stage, waiting for his cue to emerge and be his partner. A closeness that evaded him in real life.
Despite the amusing attempt at climbing a ladder with huge flippers on, cleverly escaping sandbags that are dropped from above within killing distance and the balloon that somehow always gets away, Lorenzo is right in saying that he is not funny. The routines are funny but his is a very serious look at what made a certain clown tick. His father.
It’s an incredible tribute that his son is performing for him at Manhattan Theatre Club – New York City Center Stage II. www.mtc-nyc.org