Last week for Bill Irwin in Philadelphia

Bill Irwin’s show The Happiness Lecture has been extended for one week in Philadelphia. If you have the opportunity, you should see it!

I drove down from NY on Saturday to see it. Overall it was great (Hey, it’s Bill Irwin!) And a company of 9 very talented Philadelphia area artists. (including a friend from Dell’arte, puppeteer and performer Aaron Cromie. He actually won’t be in the extended week (he had other commitments) Instead, another Dell’arte friend Dawn Falato will take over as the swing.)

I have some thoughts about the show, if you care to read them….

Like most of Bill’s original shows, the play is a meditation on his work in the theatre, and a dialogue between tricks, fear of failure (and success), and the utility of worry.

If people over time begin to resemble their dogs, it’s even more true with their shows, direct reflections of what they are thinking about as artists. It’s very true with this show– in some ways it is a direct continuation, extension of Regard of Flight. Regard was newer to me of course, and Bill was even more agile then than he is now (which seems hard to believe), and there are a lot of similar elements to this show, but there are also lots of twists that will have Bill Irwin watchers riveted.

I’m not as fond of the writing and directing of the show as I am of the performance of the show, which (especially for Bill) borders on the virtuosic. His use of his body is fantastic, whether it’s a remote control podium gone awry, creation of two cavemen (well, let’s not call them that– let’s call them early men) that illustrate a sort of Darwinian Happiness Theory, or performing a beautiful Mr. Noodle piece, Bill is always as precise as a Swiss watch. It’s a pleasure to watch him work, although work is the wrong word. He glides fluidly from routine to routine, and that’s his genius.

An amazing piece of theatrical genius is in the staging. The use of puppets of Bill Irwin and the creation of multiple focused prosceniums of different sizes and scales borders on the fantastic. The stage shifts several times in scale, and each time does so with precision and ease- it reminded me that the most effective techniques are often the simplest.

And it brings home the constant argument that Bill’s shows seems to always have- I’ve got the clown thing going, but what does it all mean? I’m not 100% sure that there’s an answer to that question– there is a kind of constant narrative about narrative throughout the piece, and a use of theatrical conventions (the pre-show speech, the usher, the audience member placed in peril) that is always pleasant to watch but is not really linear or conducive to the “well-made play.”

At the end of the show, I heard a grandmother asking her two teenaged grand-children what they thought of the show.

GRANDMOTHER: Wasn’t that marvelous and fun? What did you think?
GRAND-DAUGHTER: I liked it, but it was a little weird. I didn’t quite get it.
GRAND-SON: Yeah, it was cool, but I didn’t really get it. It was weird.

It wasn’t their typical play, but they liked it.

If you’d like to see the show, visit the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Website listed below:

On a related topic– Cirque du Soleil was just ending a run of Kooza (directed by Irwin collaborator David Shiner) down the block from the theatre. If I had known, I would have tried to have gotten tickets for both. Kooza’s next stop is Chicago, then Boston, then Washington DC.

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