The Pee-wee Herman Show

Paul Reubens’ childlike character remains just as funny as he was two decades ago.

Paul Reubens and Phil LaMarr in The Pee-wee Herman Show
(© Ed Krieger)
Paul Reubens and Phil LaMarr in The Pee-wee Herman Show
(© Ed Krieger)

There’s something timeless about Pee-wee Herman, with his 1950s nerdy garb and spoofing of pioneer children’s television milieu. Indeed, his brand of nostalgia tickles the funny bone as much today as it did when he first came to prominence on TV and film over 20 years ago, as proven by
The Pee-wee Herman Show, now playing at L.A.’s Club Nokia.

Pee-wee (Paul Reubens) lives in his brightly colored playhouse with his friends, including Chairy, a large blue upholstered chair who uses her arm rests to bear hug her inhabitants, Mr Window, who along with the singing flowers announce visitors to the playhouse, PTerri the pterodactyl, who taunts Pee-wee since he can fly through the air with ease, and Pee-wee’s prized friend, Jambi the Green Genie, who lives suspended in a box (John Pagagon) and grants wishes.

And since he’s a popular guy, lots of friends come to visit Pee-wee, including the dashing Firefighter (Josh Meyers), bombastic Cowboy Curtis (Phil LaMarr), cookie thieving Mailman Mike (John Moody), Lambada-dancing repair man Sergio (Jesse Garcia), and the loveliest maiden in all of Puppetland, the “elegant” Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart).

In this supposedly typical day in Puppetland, Pee-wee watches cartoons, reads postcards from pen pals, and makes goofy food. He’s the ultimate case of arrested development. And his one wish is to be the only boy who can fly. However, can he selfishly retrieve this wish when someone else he cares about has a more romantic yearning?

The age of Reubens’ alter ego is beginning to show; his voice has gone down an octave and his energy is a bit more subdued. But a subdued Pee-wee is still like a three-year-old who’s been taken off Ritalin. He has plenty of energy to spare. Pee-wee humor is based on infantilism and repetition — including a magic word that when spoken causes the audience to scream, childish aphorisms like “I know you are but what am I,” and a familiar plotline — but only the churlish would complain.

Most of the cast have been performing together for decades, and their chemistry is unequivocal. A particular delight is Stewart, whose Miss Yvonne is now reminiscent of Bette Davis’ Baby Jane — a trait which makes her character all the more hilariously demented. There is a hole in the room, however, where the gifted late Phil Hartman once stood as Kap’n Karl. Although there is no mention of the character, he haunts the surroundings.

David Korins’ sets, with their oversized furniture, askew door frames, wacky colors and toys befitting a five-year-old, are a visual treat., and Ann-Closs Farley’s costumes are loud, vibrant, and full of mirth. Particularly playful is Cowboy Curtis’ cowpoke uniform refashioned with red hearts when he discovers his true love in the neighborhood.

For fans of Pee-wee Herman, this show is like a much-needed helping of comfort food.