MOONIE AND MASTERSON . . . AT THE MATINEE
at the Project
Although Moonie and Masterson . . . at the Matinee is playing in what is usually a juvenile time slot, it's really a show for adults (on the afternoon I attended, they outnumbered the children 11 to 1). This doesn't mean that there's anything in it that would be unsuitable for viewing by the grade-school set--one brief farting joke is about as blue as it gets--but the leisurely pace and 90-minute running time (with one intermission) may prove wearisome to younger and more energetic attention spans. And Moonie's facial contortions do include some so grotesque they might frighten children--they did me.
The major portion of this matinee is Philip Johnson's: he's Moonie, costumed in the tattered garb of the Harlequin though his tabula rasa countenance, free of makeup, suggests the classical white-face mime of Marcel Marceau. Moonie introduces himself before the show by passing out bags of popcorn to audience members, varying each presentation just enough to establish an individual intimacy with each person as well as a childlike atmosphere free of inhibition. This is important, since many of Johnson's stunts rely on voluntary audience cooperation, as when he juggles cigarettes donated by a generous theatergoer or offers a flower fashioned from a paper scrap to a young lady and proceeds to steal a kiss in exchange.
At another point, some taped musical accompaniment seems to malfunction and Moonie stomps impatiently back to the engineer's booth to repair the damage. He does this with such spontaneity and ingenuousness that we actually believe it's unrehearsed right up to the moment when the hapless sound technician (John Kokum) is forced onstage in Moonie's place to entertain us while the latter fixes the tape. Of course Kokum turns out to be a very agile juggler himself, and finally the two engage in some complicated four-handed baton tossing. It almost comes as a disappointment when Johnson descends from the world of illusion he's created to sing a song or two--though they're sweet and whimsical, the songs have none of the magic of his silent clown.
In contrast to Johnson's open-faced boyishness, Sean Masterson projects a persona of mischievous, almost sinister omniscience. Technically, sleight- of-hand displays are limited to about a dozen or so variations--it's the presentation of the trick that's mostly responsible for its success. Masterson frames the familiar shuffles and switches with highly original and well articulated murder mystery stories (featuring a detective named Sam Spade, of course), curbside gambling games on Maxwell Street, and even a reading from Hamlet, the top card standing in as "stunt double" for the audience member drafted to play the doomed Polonius.
Moonie and Masterson's final stunt--an escape trick that they have assured us throughout they will not do--brings both performers to the stage in what I suppose is an obligatory team effort, although after the other feats of legerdemain it seems rather facile. But this abrupt letdown is negligible in a program aimed at adults who believe that Saturday-afternoon fun should not be restricted to kids.
Emanon Theater Company at the Halsted Theatre Centre
Emanon Theater Company's Robin Hood also aims at audiences of all ages. But while the company's roots in improv comedy give much of the humor a certain "Fractured Fairy Tales" precocity, the largest number of gags--most of them puns--are well within the range of young theatergoers ("What's that you're eating, Friar Tuck?" "Mutton, honey"). The characterizations are broad and familiar, and the action is swift and cartoon-slapstick. (The presence in the cast of both the production's fight choreographers--one of whom plays Maid Marian--and the tournament- size weapons did lead me to anticipate more elaborate swordplay than there actually turned out to be.) There's a nice special effect in one scene--an archery competition in which the evil Sir Guy makes a bull's-eye only to have Robin's arrow split his up the center. The play also contains the first in-joke for kids I've seen in this type of drama: Robin's band of merry men (and women) arrive at the archery contest disguised in colored eye masks, giving their names as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and--"What's my name?" Robin asks, and the children chorus "Raphael!" Parents may recognize the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collectively, but how many can identify each reptile by name?
At the performance I attended the children seemed to enjoy the fact that Emanon speaks to them, sometimes to the exclusion of the adults. There's not much for the latter in this show, but the 45 minutes it runs is brief enough to keep parents from getting bored and fidgety.