Monthly Archive for: ‘September, 2014’

OLD HATS flies high at A.C.T.

OLD HATS: A Modern Vaudeville Event. Created, performed and featuring Bill Irwin and David Shiner with Shaina Taub. Directed by Tina Landau. American Conservatory Theater (ACT), 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 749-2228 or September 17- October 12, 2014.

OLD HATS flies high at A.C.T.  Rating: ★★★★★

There are times when a theatre production has every quality one could desire in a live performance. In 1998 Bill Irwin and David Shiner, two baggy pants vaudevillian comedians gave such a performance with their hysterical, eye-popping Fool Moon. That staging was so well received that they were brought back in 2001 for a reprieve that was equally successful. Now they are back to open A.C.T.’s 2014-2015 season with a standing ovation quality show Old Hats that received rave reviews when it was produced in 2013 at the Signature Theatre in New York.

The raves are still attached to the show that opened last evening and it is even better than remembered. They have brought aboard Tina Landau as director, added spectacular visual and auditory graphics plus a charismatic four piece band lead by the incomparable singer Shaina Taub who wrote the music and lyrics and gets to perform a production number with Irwin and Shiner before the evening ends.

After the band arrives late and is chastised (non-verbally, of course) for their entrance, the fun begins with the duo being chased from the back of the stage by a graphic of a huge ball stolen from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.( Digital video projections by Wendall K. Harrington)

Now that the ball has rolled it is time to get on with the show. What better way than a debate between two candidates running for office. Each has a podium with hidden tricks that show up with infrequent regularity. Yes, infrequent regularity is correct because you never know when they will appear. The debate progresses with slapstick galore and the proverbial clown large mallet to bang a head or two. The visual indicators on the back screen go wild as each candidate earns an edge with the voters.

There are eight scenes and a finale in the two hour running time including the intermission and as our intrepid pair change costumes between scenes Shaina Taub sings and the band moves back and forth from their station on stage right to the front of the stage apron in close proximity to the audience.

Members of the audience are dragged into the act in two of the skits and perform admirably adding to the fun. First up is a young lady chosen by Shiner, playing the reluctant slightly reliable female assistant, to take part in Irwin’s Magic Show. He is very adept at slight hand maneuvers and adroitly severs the lady, now in a box, into two halves. Never fear, after a few false starts, receiving approbation and physical abuse by Shiner he puts her back together.

The modern technical digital age puts Irwin into a dither when he finds himself inside his Ipad and does battle with his alter ego. The digital effects are absolutely superb and you might think twice before using an Ipad. You too may be dragged into digital cloud.

Shiner gets his solo turn upon the stage as a lonesome hobo searching through a trash can looking for a relationship. Hilarity abounds as each object he extracts from the can could come for your trash. When he creates a woman (well sort of a woman) from the detritus and waltzes off stage spontaneous applause erupts.

To this reviewer, the most intricate, most hysterical part of the evening was Shiner as the silent film director shooting a western. It is a variation on a similar scene from Fool Moon but four times more fun made so by the four cooperative (sort of) members of the audience. Another rehash from their previous show that seems as fresh as remembered has Irwin dealing with a pot of spaghetti that has a mind of its own

Not to be forgotten is “The Encounter” with Irwin and Shiner adding baggy suit coats to the ubiquitous baggy pants standing on hidden stilts carrying umbrellas and newspapers waiting for a train. Before the train arrives they go up and down in stature as they share pills for their various ailments.

(From L to R) Bill Irwin, singer/songwriter Shaina Taub, and David Shiner in the finale.

A new twist has been added with our intrepid duo competing for the love of femme fatale Shaina in the final scene when they actually sing. Never fear a woman will never come between them and they return to their silent ways as the audience erupts to the standing ovation mentioned in the opening paragraph.

Created, performed and featuring Bill Irwin and David Shiner with Shaina Taub.

Creative Team: Directed by Tina Landau; Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub; Set and Costume Design by G. W. Mercier; Lighting Design by Scott Zielinski; Sound Design by John Gromada; Projection Design by Erik Pearson and Wendall K. Harrington; Video Production by Erik Pearson; Musicians Mike Brun,  Jacob Cohn Cohen, Mike Dobson and Justin Smith

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

Photo by Kevin Berne.


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