nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
September 2, 2006
Peter Daniel Straus clowns for an hour in his solo performance of Big Time, displaying all the skills needed to make him the professional clown that he is. He is physically funny and technically accomplished. Physical antics occupy much of the show. The technical wizardry shines too, but opportunities for this are far fewer.
The performance begins witha tourist who unexpectedly finds himself on stage. His persona is one part schlemiel, one part fool, and too many parts demented. The first two are endearing and capture the audience immediately. The one child sitting front row center stood as a barometer for this family-fare entertainment, leading the audience in laughter, at least for the first half. As the character lost his loveable traits, he received less audience sympathy.
Dressed in a shabby tuxedo, Straus uses his tall lanky frame for humor when he pulls out a tiny guidebook, plays a one-inch harmonica, and approaches a microphone that barely reaches his waist. The incongruity is just plain comical. His physical agility is also impressive. At one point, he pulls his entire frame between two rungs of a ladder while carrying an accordion around his neck. He is equally funny at playing two people at once—one trying to pull him off the stage while he fights to stay on. The struggle is palpable—an art in itself. He shows fine use of timing and repetition in a running bit with a remote control and music.
However, when he pulls his trunk of tricks onto the stage, we hope for more than we get. The trunk is filled with familiar materials—cards and juggling pins among them—most of which he discards. He keeps the balloons, blowing and shaping them as if it were a birthday party—but with fairly tasteless results. Also, too much time is taken with audience participation. Not one, not two, but four reluctant good sports are brought to the stage. This may be popular at a children's performance, but when it is primarily adults it seems a risky business. Not only does it slow down the performance, particularly when the routine is drawn out, but audience sympathies begin to transfer to the participants as they are left languishing on the stage and stealing the limelight. I cannot imagine any performer willingly sacrificing his audience for a short laugh when he could be eliciting oohs and aahs with the skills he worked so hard to master. The risk might have been worth it had there been a payoff as in the difficult yo-yo dazzler.
Straus is clearly talented. He would do well to include more of his technical prowess to complement the physical humor. He would then be free to discard some of the more mundane routines, providing a full evening of compelling material with himself as the star attraction. After all, he is the entertainer. We are mere putty in his hands. But, of course, the choice is his.