Like Bill Irwin, his clowning cohort with San Francisco's famed Pickle Family Circus, Geoff Hoyle has enjoyed success on Broadway (as the original Zazu the Hornbill in The Lion King) and in big-top behemoths like Cirque du Soleil. But where Irwin's approach to clowning has struck me as overly cool, self-referential, and cerebral, Hoyle at his best is an old-school burlesque virtuoso. Over the years I have seen him take pratfalls in high-concept work, most notably The First Hundred Years, a slick but hollow examination of 20th-century comedy that premiered at Berkeley Rep in 1999. But the excerpts from A Feast of Fools I saw on tape suggest it serves up exactly what Hoyle does best: short-form sketches as emotionally resonant as they are physically astounding. In "The Widower's Rendezvous" the title character, long out of practice at the dating game, nervously prepares for a tete-a-tete. Hoyle also resurrects his Mr. Sniff (familiar to Cirque fans as a fellow with a big schnoz and mischievous curiosity to match), shows off his quick-change chops in "Two Waiters," and imbues inept magician Hoylo with equal parts brio and trepidation. Composer-musician Gina Leishman provides witty, adroit accompaniment as well as comic interaction with Hoyle. Ironically, the last show he brought to Northlight--The Convict's Return in 1993--was in part a response to the lack of audiences for A Feast of Fools in New York. But since then he's polished his fool's gold to a lustrous, authentic sheen. Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300. Opens Thursday, September 18, 7 PM. Through September 21: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2:30 PM. Then September 23-27: Tuesday-Thursday, 7 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 3 and 8 PM. $30-$40.