Lorenzo Pisoni never ran away from home to join the circus. His home was the circus, the Pickle Family Circus, a one-ring conglomeration of jugglers, clowns, acrobats and other unique performers that was established and run by his parents.
He began his career at the age of 2, toddling onstage at intermission to imitate the performances of the other members of the company, and became a contracted participant at the age of 6.
As a “Pickle kid” he grew up backstage, being trained in the arts of the circus, and, when his father left, he began performing in the roles his father had initiated. He was 11.
Now in his 30s, he performs alone, reprising the story of his life in a funny, bittersweet homage to his father, a strict martinet whom he adored and obeyed and tried endlessly to please by practicing falling down stairs over and over again.
His patter, his juggling, his role-playing, and his agile clowning are all part of his performance in “Humor Abuse,” his 90-minute, action-packed play in which he plays with a dummy that looks like him, curls in and out of a small trunk, and dodges heavy objects dropped explosively from the rafters. And he obviously enjoys every minute of it.
So does his audience, for Pisoni is charming, engaging and sweet — and extraordinarily funny.
“Humor Abuse” can be seen Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through Nov. 3 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Call (213) 628-2772 for tickets.
Only for Spanish speakers
The Broad Stage in Santa Monica had done massive advertising for its sixth season opener (see the back of the Big Blue Buses), which they said was Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII.” It was presented by a Spanish group from Madrid, the premier classical theater company Rakatá, and was reportedly a retelling of the Henry VIII story from a Spanish perspective.
To give credit where it’s due, the production was well staged and the actors appeared well directed, if a little static in their movements. And the costumes, which were mostly plain and drab, blossomed into gloriously elaborate plumage during scenes of high drama: Henry’s wedding to Anne Boleyn, Anne’s coronation and Elizabeth’s baptism.
To place blame where it’s due, the production was advertised as “In Spanish with English subtitles,” which was neither accurate nor adequate. The “subtitles” consisted of a single panel of explanation before each new scene, describing what the scene would be about.
The brief explanation was then followed up with 10 minutes of unexplained dialogue as the story unfolded. If you were not naturally Spanish speaking, the performance devolved into two-and-a-half hours of incomprehensible theatrics and a feeling of being isolated, a solitary prisoner in an endless drama.
Since I had no idea of what was going on, I have no idea how it resembled Shakespeare’s play. It certainly didn’t have Shakespeare’s cadence or lyricism. And — spoiler alert — Queen Katherine of Aragon didn’t die in Shakespeare’s version, as she does in this Spanish play. In fact, she lived in exile many years after the events depicted in this play.
For those who do speak Spanish, the play, I’m sure, was a triumph.
Howl and the world howls with you
There’s an apocryphal story about a successful writer admonishing a struggling one to edit his work by cutting some of the verbiage — a practice that beginning writers are loath to do. To them, every single word is precious and necessary. But, said the successful writer to the beginner, “You’ve got to learn to kill your little darlings.”
I have heard this quote attributed to Allen Ginsberg, but I was unable to verify it. But I have introduced it here because John Krokidas, director and co-writer (with Austin Bunn) of a new film about the coming of age of poet Ginsberg has titled it “Kill Your Darlings.” Verification? Perhaps.
The film, based on a true story, has many back-stories. It depicts Ginsberg as a shy, awkward, unsophisticated teenager escaping a dreadful home life with his humorless father and mentally troubled mother in Paterson, N.J., to begin his studies at Columbia University in glamorous New York. Almost immediately he is taken up by an intense and charismatic young poet, Lucien Carr, and his gang of rowdy rebels.
As a hesitant romance blossoms between the two men, we are also privy to the pranks and confrontations initiated by the group, which included Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and other early members of what was later known as the Beat Generation. Their intention was to start a cultural revolution, which they did.
Lurking on the fringes was an older man named David Kammerer, who had been Carr’s Boy Scout leader, mentor, and lover, and who was apparently still obsessed with him. Eventually, in trying to disengage from a relationship that had become a burden, Carr killed him and dumped his body into the Hudson River.
Ironically, Carr claimed self-defense, and as late as the 1940s being accosted by a homosexual was considered a justifiable excuse for murder. It was called an “honor slaying.” And because Carr testified that he himself was not gay, he eventually was released from prison.
The cast, consisting of Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Carr, Jack Huston as Kerouac, Ben Foster as Burroughs, and Michael C. Hall as Kammerer, are represented as cold and arrogant and not easily likable. This mood is exacerbated by the darkness of the photography and the humorless intensity of the characters.
Excerpts from their poetry, and most especially from Ginsberg’s “Howl,” dark as it is, might have raised the level of gloom a bit.
“Kill Your Darlings” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It will be released and playing in theaters in L.A. and New York in the next couple of weeks.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.