MOONIE THE MAGNIFICENT
Famous Door Theatre Company
PIE STORY THEATRE
Emerging Artists Project
at the Theatre Building
Philip E. Johnson, aka Moonie the Magnificent, claims to have been influenced by the internationally renowned Avner the Eccentric, but Johnson’s maskless clown resembles him only in his onstage silence. Johnson’s act–a medley of juggling, rope walking, acrobatics, contortionism, sleight of hand, mime, and folk singing–is closer in tone and pacing to the Flying Karamazov Brothers’, both in its brilliant displays of physical agility and its childlike glee at its own accomplishment. The results should amuse children who haven’t yet learned the limits of human endeavor and astonish adults who thought they had.
To accommodate both audiences, Moonie is now appearing in a matinee on Saturday afternoons (when the adults usually outnumber the children eight to one) and a late-night stint on Fridays, following The Conquest of the South Pole (also featuring Johnson). Though chunks of the two shows are similar, the later time slot permits Moonie to show his, uh, darker side. The nocturnal clown may open his show with a parody of performance art, in which he reads Shakespeare in a kazoolike voice from behind a gas mask. He may poke fun at audience members (a woman called on to assist in a stunt squirmed and giggled so much that Moonie started to mimic her movements). The songs with which he closes the show may include the plaintive sympathy-for-the-flasher ballad “Willie” (“How can you call him a criminal / When all he wants is to show his genitals?”); the creepy “Herb and Emma,” a tale of possible murder narrated through phone-machine messages; or the sly “Skipper’s Song,” which conjectures about the carefully repressed relationships among the denizens of Gilligan’s Island.
Both shows contain plenty of tricks familiar to fans (who, I’m told, call themselves Moonie’s Moonies): the klutzy sound technician banished from his booth to the stage, where he engages in some four-handed baton slinging with Moonie; an origami flower presented to a woman in the audience in exchange for a kiss; a precarious promenade across a high wire whose turnbuckles creak ominously with each step; a primal-howl polar-bear song, in which people of all ages are encouraged to join. “If everybody does it, nobody looks stupid,” Moonie assures us. So we do, and nobody does.
PIE (Projects in Education) Story Theatre is also putting on a multigenerational Saturday-afternoon show. It’s produced by the Emerging Artists Project, Inc., an organization “dedicated to involving, educating and serving emerging and established playwrights and other theatre artists.” One might expect a little 60-minute revue to founder under the weight of these lofty goals, but the seven-member ensemble delivers uniformly tight, intelligent, well-rehearsed performances of original and adapted material that’s devoid of the silliness and preachiness that plague so much kiddie drama.
The PIE troupe, under the direction of Patrick Reviere, presents its two- to five-minute narratives in the story-theater style popularized by Paul Sills. Last Saturday the program, selected from a menu of 45 stories, included almost a dozen sketches. “Harrison Loved His Umbrella” gently satirizes toy fads, and an adaptation of “The Foolish Wife” chides parents who fret over tragedies that haven’t happened. Two classics, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “Little Red Cap,” met with oddly cool receptions, perhaps due to the difficulty of compressing complex and often casually violent plots into a short running time. A tale of six fishermen who fear that one of their number has drowned is a delightful bit of nonsense, largely because of the split-second comic rhythms of the actors playing the hapless anglers. My favorite story, however, was the one involving a lonely fire-breathing dragon, an unhappy king with a chilly castle, and the clever knight who unites the two, to the satisfaction of everybody.