by Tulis McCall

Old Hats: Bill Irwin and David Shiner; Photo by Kevin Berne

Old Hats: Bill Irwin and David Shiner; Photo by Kevin Berne

Is it “The more things change, the more things stay the same,” or is it the other way around?  When is an Old Hat really a new one?  And why oh why can I not watch Bill Irwin and David Shiner a minimum of once a week?

These and other questions are answered in this production of Old Hats now at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  Bill Irwin and David Shiner are BACK and with them is a new addition to the proceedings, Shaina Taub.

The last time I saw this show, and most of it is the same material but spruced up, I laughed out loud.  I was afraid it would be Old News Old Hats this time.  Silly me.  These two got me again.  As a pair they are matched like a pair of, well, old gloves.  They know each other’s moves and if they spoke they would finish each other’s sentences.

Two old men at a railroad station repeating the conversation they have every morning of every day. Two politicians who try and out do each other for a vote (this was the only sluggish piece of the evening, and I suspect it is because it is difficult to top the Republican debates in the humor department).  Two clowns fighting for the spotlight with remote controls.  These two rely on one another like Laurel did Hardy.  They vie for attention – ours or Shaina’s – it doesn’t matter.  They are clowns you see, and clowns are needy.  Or so they would have us believe.  There is a certain magic about clowns.  They make us think we are important.  They make us believe that without our eyes upon them they would not exist – a sort of masterful Quantum Theatrics.  They are like adults trying to cheer up a toddler.  And in the hands of Irwin and Shiner we all become toddlers.  We want to be the woman they saw in half.  We want to be the cast of the silent movie that Shiner directs, silently of course. We want to be anywhere these two are.

The addition of Shaina Taub brings a dark side to the light side – which is perfect because humor is based on tragedy is it not?  What is funny about a sunny day, unless you get a sunburn on a part of your body you didn’t mean to exppose to the sun?  Taub and her excellent band bring us perky songs that verbalize the underbelly of clowning

The visitors come knockin’ at my door
some for dinner, some for tea.
Loneliness can overstay his welcome
but I could use the company.


Everyone is gonna die, so lighten up.
Life is brief and that is why you should lighten up.

Taub is the perfect Fric to the men’s Frac.

And let’s not forget the actual h-a-t-s.  In a variety of shapes and sizes.  These clowns imbue their hats with life.  Hats become sentient.  They fly, they flee, they tumble and twirl, they zip and zing.  And always, always, always they make us laugh.

There should be a Nobel prize for people who make other people laugh.  Let’s just say it: A Nobel Prize for Clowns.  Now there is an acceptance speech that I would like to see.  Irwin and Shiner make you laugh, and occasionally break your heart, with the lift of an eyebrow or the tweak of a pinky.  And what is better than that?  Maybe sex on a very good day.  But most of us don’t do that in public, which is where Irwin, Shiner and Taub play their games.  It’s the public part that shifts the planet every so slightly.  We laugh with other people.  Even the idiot who just had to text something in the middle of the staircase and nearly knocked you off your pins.  Even they guy who cut in front of you at the bar because he is a very important person.  Even the jerk in back of you who pushed your coat off your seat back because it was touching his knees.  All those idiots are your laughing companions.  And in that light, they don’t seem like idiots quite so much.

World Peace through clowning.

OLD HATS written by Bill Irwin and David Shiner; Music and lyrics by and featuring Shaina Taub; Directed by Tina Landau

Cast Starring Bill Irwin, David Shiner and Shaina Taub