B Y J A N A R I V E R A
ARIZONA THEATRE COMPANY has taken a bold departure from its normal course of safe, mainstream drama with its latest production, The Convict's Return, a one-man performance art piece that some are describing as "new vaudeville."
Many think of vaudeville as a hodgepodge of comedy and singing acts made popular in the early 1900s, but researchers describe it as a highly structured, distinctive entertainment form. Each performer, no matter how famous or how well-paid, usually appeared only once in each show, and rarely for more than 20 minutes. That one brief shot on stage forced performers to select their best material and perfect their timing and delivery, producing some of our most notable comedians such as W.C. Fields, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Milton Berle, Bob Hope and the Marx Brothers.
It is in this spirit that Geoff Hoyle entertains us for about 90 minutes without intermission. He does so with impeccable timing and flawless delivery. And in the essence of vaudeville, which stressed diversity, he intermixes long forgotten vaudeville acts, reintroducing us to some of those who made an impact on him--Bobby Clark and Tommy Cooper--with his own struggle as an artist.
The story of Hoyle's own struggle is quite amusing. In fact, it's downright funny. How about hilarious, witty, and, at times, even side-splitting.
He begins as a stand-up comedian would, interacting with the audience, the houselights still up. From the moment he steps on stage, he captivates with an energetic aura. From there, he moves with a fast and furious pace through his New York City theatre experience, the brief Off-Broadway stint of his solo play, Feast of Fools. He gives us samples of all those colorful New York characters and those unique New York experiences--the cab ride, the ideal apartment where you can cook, eat, and brush your teeth all from the comfort of your bed.
As Hoyle struggles to keep his own production going, he dreams each night of the masters of slapstick, and it's through these dreams that he presents us with some of the funniest moments of the evening. His rendition of "Il Maestro" conducting Rossini's William Tell Overture, can only be described as uncontrollably hysterical. He also performs a humorous piece of Bobby Clark's "The Convict's Return" (obviously, this play's namesake), a number done by Clark in the 1939 revue, The Streets of Paris.
Tony Taccone directs this production, which was originally commissioned by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and since performed in Chicago, Boston and Seattle.
Besides being an immensely funny and entertaining work, Hoyle's love for comedic theatre is apparent, and he has brought it to a point of perfection not seen since vaudeville died with the onset of movies. I've criticized ATC's attempts at slapstick in the past (Noises Off), but when it's done with Hoyle's superiority and intermixed with his clever wit, it's a remarkable thing to behold.
Arizona Theatre Company's production of The Convict's Return continues with performances Tuesday through Sunday through May 21. ATC is located at the Temple of Music and Art, Alice Holsclaw Theatre, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets range from $17 to $26. For show times and reservations call 622-2823.
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