Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Tip of My Hat to all wear bowlers
A bowler hat is a hard felt hat with a rounded crown created by Thomas and William Bowler for the 2nd Earl of Leicester Thomas Coke. Oliver Hardy wore one in all of his comedies as did the chief protagonist in A Clockwork Orange. It was required of all of the actors in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
all wear bowlers is Waiting for Godot vs a Laurel and Hardy comedy with a touch of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure. It's a pungent, silent, surreal performance by these two amazing existentialist clowns. A series of avant-garde sketches are strung together in a simple plot of two persons trying to get out of the theatre.
all wear bowlers opens with just two bowler hats on an empty stage that mysteriously disappear into the wings. There is a touch of Magritte in this opening scene. A scratchy black and white film straight out of the early 1920s comes flashing on a screen at the rear of the stage. It shows a country road with a bare tree on the right side. Two men wearing bowler hats are walking on the road. As they approach the camera, they leap out of the screen like Tom Baxter in The Purple Rose of Cairo. They leap back and forward from the film world with impeccable timing. The film suddenly melts into a mess of burnt celluloid, and the two men are trapped on our side of the film.
Geoff and Trey's purpose is to get out of the building, and we see a the two clown around with some amazing sketches. They do a too-long vaudeville schtick of over twenty eggs being coughed out of their mouths. One of the eggs contains a ticket for a seat in the theatre. Unfortunately, a paying customer who has that seat in the front row on the left side of the theatre. Geoff comes down from the stage and demands the seat. The patron's companion must also give up her seat to Trey. Fortunately, the two poor patrons find other seats.
The two artists use tools to detached the two seats and carry them up onto the stage where Geoff and Trey sit facing the audience. They sit and stare for a very long time until finally Trey says in a high falsetto voice "I don't get it." Geoff replies in a deep voice "Avant-guard."
Trey is marvelous as a falsetto-warbling ventriloquist's dummy that goes bananas, and a hilarious, evil, Godzilla-like monster who keeps saying "kill." Sobelle is terrific in his madcap manner climbing a step ladder, swinging from lighting cables, and climbing the theatre walls. He even appears in the upper balcony of the theatre. The men occasionally speak in their own language, which adds to the merriment. During one scene Trey becomes smitten with an audience member and leads the woman up on the stage to perform a charming wedding story which involves a film on the screen.
Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle are sparkling physical comedians, and their exaggerated movements are skillfully polished. There is a lot of Beckett's Waiting for Godot in this poignant piece of theatre. There are also some overextended and overburden passages, but they are at a minimum.
all wear bowlers contains some wonderful bursts of Michael Friedman's ragtime and early jazz music. The authentic costumes by Tara Webb remind me of Charlie Chaplin's early movies. All of the action is performed on a bare stage where even a light fixture high in the wings becomes part of the farce.
all wear bowlers runs through December 23rd at the Berkeley's Rep Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets and information please call 510-647-2949 or toll free at 888.4BRT.Tix or go to www.berkeleyrep.org The next production will be The Pillowman opening on January 12th and running through February 25th.