I just this minute got back to New York and rushed to my waiting iBook to post “About Last Night”‘s weekly Wall Street Journal drama-page teaser. Today I reviewed a pair of off-Broadway one-person shows, Jay Johnson’s The Two and Only and Sarah Jones’ bridge & tunnel.
I liked The Two and Only without reservations:
Mr. Johnson is a ventriloquist (readers with long memories will remember him from the TV series “Soap”), and “The Two and Only” is a show-and-tell reminiscence of his life and work. He loves what he does, and so far as I could tell from “The Two and Only,” he is as well-adjusted as a man who talks to wooden dummies can hope to be. What’s more, Mr. Johnson is both extremely funny and a super-virtuoso of his mysterious craft. At one point he actually dispenses with props and “throws” his disembodied, wraith-like voice into thin air, a trick so impressive that I’m still agog at the memory of it….
As a boy, Mr. Johnson marveled at the witty ventriloquists who frequented the TV variety shows of yesteryear. Those shows are long gone, but Jay Johnson is still here, throwing his voice in all directions and making case-hardened Manhattan audiences laugh themselves silly without resort to cynicism or vulgarity (except for one FCC-disapproved word whose precisely timed detonation caused the audience to laugh so hard that I briefly feared for the roof of the Atlantic Theater). It says in the program that he “dreamed of this one-man show for most of his life.” I couldn’t be happier that his dream has finally come true.
I liked bridge & tunnel enormously, too, albeit with one important qualification:
The vibrant physicality of Ms. Jones’ nonstop body-snatching is if anything even more exciting than her uncanny ear for accents. I couldn’t take my eyes off her large hands, which she can transform in an instant from the air-sculpting precision tools of a mime to the palsied, trembling claws of an old woman. She’d be fun to watch even if she weren’t funny to hear, and her loving parodies of the sort of verse you’d be likely to hear at a meeting of Immigrant and Multiculturalist American Poets or Enthusiasts Traveling Toward Optimistic Openness (that’s I.A.M.A.P.O.E.T.T.O.O. for short) rarely fail to hit the target dead center.
I liked “bridge & tunnel” so much that I almost hate to point out that it is a risk-free, feel-good show masquerading as a hard-hitting piece of political theater. Ms. Jones would be a better playwright had she dared to challenge her viewers’ preconceptions by including even one unsympathetic character in her “cast.” Instead, the nominally diverse immigrants in “bridge & tunnel” are all staunch downtown liberals, none of whom would think of uttering a politically incorrect word about any subject whatsoever….
No link. If you want to read the whole thing (and I hope you do), buy Friday’s Journal. I’m there, together with a whole lot of other good stuff.