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Arts & Entertainment

Theater Review: 'Humor Abuse'

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 20

By Ben Miles

Lorenzo Pisoni has come to town to play out the true story of his life as the youngest performer in the Pickle Family Circus, a San Francisco area little Big Top extravaganza that was seen by thousands of people and launched the careers of some legendary circus performers. Lorenzo learned clowning from his father at an early age and the story of the sensation, misfortune and intricacy of life in the circus is outlined and detailed admirably in Pisoni’s 2009 show, “Humor Abuse.”

Now playing at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum through November 3, “Humor Abuse” is a one-person play created by Pisoni and director Erica Schmidt. In 90 minutes (no intermission), the show chronicles Pisoni’s unique relationship with his professional clown father, Larry, with whom he signed a player’s contract to perform at age 6. It also treats the audience to some astonishing, and injury-defying clown stunts, such as impressive juggling feats, painful-looking pratfalls and other slapstick bits.

But at the heart of this singular sensation of a show is the love and demands of a father who provides an apprenticeship in a profession that many of us have enjoyed with a degree of aesthetic distance. Here, however, we get the lowdown on being a clown. Father and son would spend hours practicing back-flips, quick-slips and other physically rigorous clowning routines in what Pisoni describes as “the greatest years” of his young life. Time and again, after each strenuous practice routine, Larry would say to his son: “Do it again,” conveyed in a prerecorded voice that seems to echo from the hinterlands of a nostalgic past.

Director Schmidt adds wonderful, sentimental touches to the program, such as projecting pictures of little Lorenzo in full clown regalia, performing or preparing with his father. These many visuals underscore Pisoni’s engaging narrative.

But nothing is more appealing than Pisoni’s present day persona. With the muscular body of an Olympic gymnast, a face that’s movie star handsome and stentorian vocal abilities, Pisoni claims not to be naturally funny – though he is hilarious in some of his derring-do. He also says that he fears heights. You wouldn’t know it from the altitude at which many of his pratfalls take place.

Now Lorenzo Pisoni has gone on to “legitimate” theater, having played on Broadway in such shows as “Equus” and “Henry IV.” Clearly though, you can take the boy out of clowning but you can’t take clown out of the boy. Pisoni’s “Humor Abuse” demonstrates this fact.

“Humor Abuse” continues at the Mark Taper Forum through November 3. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Show times are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 1 p.m. on Sundays, with evening performances at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, call (213) 626-2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit