Dallas — What’s a little vaudeville between friends? The New York Goofs pal around with a few friends from Lone Star Circus and others in a new variety show, Hopped Up on Goofballs, at the Pocket Sandwich Theater. Undeniably retro, most of the men were in suspenders and most of the women in sexy outfits, yet the material favored a contemporary spin. Except for the ball jokes—they’re timeless.
It was a show built on clowning and spiced up with music, magic and acrobatics, all with a dedicated comic spin. A fair amount of bawdiness with extended routines of ball bit (well, the show title is Hopped Up on Goofballs), double entendres with dance, and even sock puppets doing nut jokes. Well rehearsed and deftly paced under Dick Monday’s direction, the inaugural show and full house last Tuesday bodes well for future incarnations, the next being Oct 6.
With his hyper-expressive face and loose-limbed movements, co-host Monday seemed to channel Red Skelton, updated with a wry Harry Shearer edge. Impressive credentials as director of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College from 1994 to 1997, he now guest clowns internationally. Monday co-founded the Goofs with clown partner Tiffany Riley, also known as Slappy, lauded for her comic dance choreography and therapeutic clowning in hospitals.
The set pieces in each half were strong and flashy enough to satisfy those not thrilled by the subtleties of clowning. Mike Williams, who holds down the popular Comedy & Magic weekend matinees at the Addison Improv, is a dependable magician, able to guess cards and make seemingly solid objects materialize from the air. His comic patter continues to sharpen, and he clearly relished performing adult material for a change. Fanny Kerwich, creative director of Lone Star Circus, also contributed a couple of too-brief displays of hoop artistry that needed more pizzazz.
Kelli Brown, a former Ringling performer, pleased the crowd with aerial silks maneuvers, climbing the red fabric cascades to take balletic poses, only to suddenly come tumbling down, catching herself at the last moment. All of it made more challenging by the low ceiling. Her strength acrobatics with Julio Furlan, a stocky, muscular clown formerly with Ringling and Escola Nacional de Circo in Brazil, were graceful and complex, entailing an astounding amount of trust as they smoothly created muscular sculptures.
But the raison d'etre for Hopped Up on Goofballs is clowning in all its myriad glory. Monday excelled in vaudevillian shtick with comic banter. The petite and slightly mad Riley aced the mischievous agent of chaos angle, while Furlan interacted with a determined intensity. Shawn Patrello, noted local improviser, projected a rural rube personality with a Mayberry smartness, quiet but always effective. Actress/puppeteer Steph Garrett was paired with actress/singer Monique Abry in some music and movement numbers that possessed a comic grace, no doubt shaped by Riley’s choreographic talents. But with the men’s similar costumes, it was often difficult to tell them apart, and the juggling was too sparse.
Integrated into the show was music by Open Classical DFW’s Thiago X. Nascimento, evoking Victor Borge, the Danish comedian, conductor, and pianist. Much silly mugging and melodrama face, once to a giddy Chopin tune. Hopped Up while Goofballs reached an apex of comic grace with Monday playing a saw with a bow while extracting actual music from it, accompanied by Nascimento and Riley on concertina. It was charming and enchanting.
Dallas is undergoing a circus renaissance. Hopped Up on Goofballs joins Circus Freaks’ dinner show Salmagundi and theater offerings. Relieved of their home in the Lakewood Theater, Viva Dallas Burlesque is opening a club in the Design District for circus and burlesque acts. With the Goof’s annual Maymester at the University of North Texas offering high-level circus training each spring, it’s a trend bound to continue.