All Wear Bowlers playing downtown at Here Arts Center in Soho served as a real reminder to us about the greatness of living in New York and having the ability to seeing something really special in a tiny venue.

This is the same venue where Symphonie Fantastique and The Vagina Monologues premiered, and in all wear bowlers, we really wouldn't be surprised if they are cultivating another show destined for bigger things in larger venues.

Credit the Philadelphia Fringe Festival with being the first to premiere this work, which is the creation of Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle, two vastly talented practitioners of the noble art of clowning. Borrowing from the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and maybe a touch of Chaplin, Lyford and Sobelle have created a brilliantly funny, yet surreal and avante garde evening of mayhem, which also pays homage to Magritte and Beckett. The only other clown we recall seeing who we've ever thought of in such an existential light is the great Bill Irwin, who was spotlighted in a brilliant season last year at The Signature Theater. Interestingly, Irwin's frequent partner-in-crime, David Shiner, is credited here as a vaudeville consultant, and appears to have been a bona fide mentor to Lyford and Sobelle in the development of this production.

2005_03_artsallbowlersscree.jpgBy way of plot, a page is borrowed from Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo when two vagabond drifter types are first shown to us in a captivating black and white film - but then jump off the screen and into the theater. Here they find themselves unable to get back to their film world. Initially unable to grasp the fact that they are now in a current day theater, they make the most of the situation and begin to play to the audience. Their act involves old vaudeville standbys such as slight-of-hand and ventriloquism, but the panache and humor presented by Lyford, in the Laurel-type straight man role, and Sobelle in the Hardy-esque overly-excited role, keep the laughs coming. Audience participation also enters the mix, and at one point Sobelle becomes an active viewer in the audience.

It takes real craftsmen to take an ancient art form which pre-dates vaudeville and harkens all the way back to Commedia dell'Arte, yet make it feel fresh and exciting. Kudos to the talented folks behind All Wear Bowlers. See it while you can it this intimate setting, where it is booked through March 12.
[Photography by J.J. Tiziou]