We unfortunately missed Lorenzo Pisoni's acclaimed stage memoir Humor Abuse during its first, sold-out run at A.C.T. this past winter, so we were glad, after all the accolades it received, to see the theater bringing it back for a two-week return engagement this summer. It is as good as we heard and then some, and honestly, as one-man shows go, we can't recommend it enough.
We'll try to keep this brief seeing as it's only playing through next week and a number of critics have already covered it, but Pisoni is a wildly talented, shockingly limber, fearless and sympathetic presence on stage. He grew up as the only son of Pickle Family Circus founders Larry and Peggy Pisoni. The Pisonis founded the circus in San Francisco in 1975, opening their first show in the gym of John O'Connell High School in the Mission. They quickly moved the show outdoors, and made the decision to shape their circus around the Italian tradition of commedia dell'arte rather than the American circus, with only a single ring, no animals, and with performers doing all the clowning, music, acrobatics, and tricks in close proximity to the audience. The circus eventually gave way to S.F.'s Circus Center.
Lorenzo started performing, of his own volition, at age 2, by wandering out on stage during intermission and mimicking what he'd scene the other performers do. By now, at age 36, he is a skilled and impressively trained prat-faller and clown in the image of his father, with whom he toured the country in a two-man show from the ages of 6 to 10. Humor Abuse centers on that father-son relationship, more intense and yet just as distant as so many father-son relationships, but with the added dimension of falling-down-stairs lessons and spending a good part of one's childhood stuffed in a trunk with a bunch of balloons, getting carried onstage on one's father's back. It's a story about the practice it takes to delight people, and it's delightfully performed with a fair amount of sweat, honesty, and body padding.
Pisoni who recently finished a stint on Broadway playing the horse in Equus, opposite Daniel Radcliffe brilliantly weaves poignant bits of his father's biography, and the story of their relationship, with re-enactments of various bits and acts they did together and separately, focusing on key lessons in his development as a performer. And in the adult Lorenzo we can see flashes of the earnest boy who played straight man to his father on stage, all the while studying and practicing his every move worshiping him, while slowly learning who he was as a human being.
For anyone who remembers seeing the Pickle Family Circus in their heyday, Pisoni is using original props built by his parents, as well as the circus' original, slightly torn canvas backdrop in his show. All we've got to say in closing is you need to see this man try to take a dive off a ladder into a bucket. Some gags, to our surprise and relief, truly never get old. Especially in the hands of seasoned, masterful funny man like this one.
Humor Abuse plays through August 19 at ACT. Get tickets here.
Previously: 'Humor Abuse' Returns for Second Run at A.C.T.