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Humor Abuse

Lorenzo Pisoni's solo show about growing up in the circus is utterly charming and often hilarious.

By New York City
Lorenzo Pisoni in Humor Abuse
(© Joan Marcus)
Lorenzo Pisoni in Humor Abuse
(© Joan Marcus)
"I am not funny," Lorenzo Pisoni states at the beginning of Humor Abuse, now at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 2. Of course, the statement is entirely untrue, as becomes more and more evident throughout this utterly charming, absorbing, and sometimes hilarious 70-minute solo piece, co-conceived by his marvelously inventive director, Erica Schmidt.

Then again, whether you believe Pisoni at all may depend on whether you know the extremely handsome actor only from his recent (and non-funny) appearance as Nugget in the Broadway revival of Equus, or from having seen him in such previous stage work as Election Day, in which he was quite funny, or most importantly, knowing that he was a member of the legendary Pickle Family Circus.

If Pisoni wasn't literally born in a trunk, he spent a whole lot of his childhood locked up in one as part of the act created by his father, Larry -- aka Lorenzo Pickle -- a much beloved performer who was not the world's easiest father. Aided by slide projections as well as his own heartfelt recollections -- many delivered with an appropriate wryness -- Pisoni expertly captures his unconventional upbringing: first taking to the circus stage at age 2, signing an actual contract to perform at age 6, and then working side-by-side (or back-by-back) with his dad. (His mother, also a performer, is essentially a minor character here, which may be the show's biggest shortcoming.)

His father left the family at age 10, and shortly after, Pisoni decided to tour the world with the circus, unaccompanied by either parent. It was a sharply lonely existence made bearable by friendly waitresses with stacks of pancakes -- and the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. It was also one he happily gave up at age 13 for some brief semblance of normality.

Dressed in layer after layer of clown clothing -- much of which is eventually unpeeled -- the physically versatile Pisoni marvelously recreates some of his own circus routines, including a supremely silly bit in which he climbed a tall ladder in oversized fins that kept falling off. But the show's true highlight comes towards the end, when he executes his father's rather remarkable exercise in derring-do, narrowly missing sandbag after sandbag as they descend from the ceiling.

Of course, one's father didn't have to be a clown for most audience members to embrace Pisoni's difficulty of bonding with one's parent, a theme which gives the show a universality that works hand in hand with its uniqueness. And if Pisoni indeed suffered "humor abuse" as a child, he has emerged -- if not completely unscathed -- as a truly talented, determinedly forgiving, and very funny adult.


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