Review: “Old Hats” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through April 3, 2016)

February 19, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Created and Performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner
Music and Lyrics by and Featuring Shaina Taub
Directed by Tina Landau
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Here’s to the chaos/The heartache and strain/Three cheers for agony/A toast to the pain/Hats off to everything that leaves a scar/For reminding me who my friends are” (“The Reminder Song” by Shaina Taub)

“Old Hats,” the captivating theater piece created and performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, is back at the Signature Theater after a sold out successful run in 2013 and might possibly be even better this time around with the addition of musician, lyricist, and singer Shaina Taub. The two veterans give remarkable performances as they clown, mime, mimic, dance, and contort their supple bodies to communicate their silent stories. Their willowy frames, exaggerated facial expressions, and animated movements capture the souls of their characters. The routines run the gamut from endearingly classic, cleverly comedic, simply silly, or gambling on audience involvement. Regardless of the choice, at this performance all were successful as was proven by the sheer delight evidenced in the audience’s reaction.

The routines are interspersed with songs written and performed by Ms. Taub and her band with lyrics that may well serve as an overture to the master’s unspoken allegory. The music may at times concoct a vaudevillian flair but the message of the lyrics is responsive to current themes resulting in an upbeat, uplifting effect, which seizes the content of the piece that follows and causes an effortless flow. The songs produce an intelligent perspective that support the material and Ms. Taub’s entertaining delivery is a joy to hear and experience. Highlights are “Make A Mess,” “Die Happy,” “The Reminder Song,” “Let’s Dream,” and “Lighten Up” during which the clowns join Ms. Taub in singing “Don’t worry ‘bout the gloom and doom advancing/If we’re all going down, wouldn’t you rather go down dancing?”

Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner are nothing less than brilliant with impeccable timing and indomitable energy.
They have managed to incorporate modern day technology into the opening number as they are chased by a huge rolling boulder and we are thrown into the middle of a 3 D movie. “Mr. Business” deals with the interminable interaction between humans and their high tech devices until realizing what they are missing. “The Hobo” takes a classic turn, heartwarming in simplicity and stunning in execution. “The Encounter” deals with two grumpy men waiting for a train taking on the subject of growing old and demonstrates incredible physical prowess. “The Magic Act” is a hysterical rendition of an incompetent magician and his distinctive, outlandish assistant (wife). Mr. Irwin as the assistant soars, exhibiting an enormous comic flair and the ability to produce facial images that speak volumes, all while sauntering around the stage in high heeled pumps. He certainly does not steal the scene, as Mr. Shiner is equally competent as the washed up magician performing old tricks without much success.

This is one of those exemplary evenings of theatre with flawless performances by all. It is a tribute to genres often overlooked and taken for granted rather than explored and savored for the discipline they require. It is graced by two consummate artists who excel in their craft, love their work, respect their audience and appear much younger physically and mentally, than their experienced years. If you missed it the first time around, now is not the time to hesitate. Make some time to sit back and enjoy a remarkable entertaining evening of theater.