Friday, September 29, 2006

Were Critics Knocking Wood on Two And Only?

Were Critics Knocking Wood on Two And Only?

Last evening, ventriloquist Jay Johnson opened for his first time on the Great White Way in Jay Johnson: The Two And Only at the Helen Hayes Theatre. Were critics engaged? Ventriloquists aren't your typical Broadway fare, but Johnson's performance appears to have struck on positive nerve.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times is generally positive, noting, "That vulture has terrific timing, as do the tennis ball, the snake, the chimp and the two wooden fellows -- the sweet-spirited Squeaky and the bilious Bob (also a star of “Soap”) -- that Mr. Johnson brings to flavorful and various comic life with his antic arm and magic voice box. But it’s that little bit of magic that makes the difference. The crack timing is really nobody’s but Mr. Johnson’s, and yet, when it’s time for a comic payoff, his lips remain set in a placid if slightly rigid half-smile, and your eyes are trained on the yapping bird or the monkey or the beady-eyed wooden kid. The nifty trick of talking without appearing to is what raises Mr. Johnson’s act above the level of mere puppetry to something stranger and marginally more fascinating."

In awarding three out of four stars, Elysa Gardner of USA Today echoes some of Brantley's fascination: "Johnson's unabashed fervor ultimately proves as engaging as his skill....(His) reminiscences aren't likely to change your life as the events they summon changed Johnson's. But chances are you'll be happy to indulge him."

Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News gushes, "You expect to laugh during a show about a guy who makes a tennis ball speak - and a monkey curse. But you don't anticipate to well up." Clive Barnes of the New York Post says, "[A]ll in all, this is a surprising, and extremely funny, one-man show that has a character to it and more than a few characters in it." One wonders why he only gave the show 2 and a half stars.

After noting how creepy he's always found ventriloquists and their dummies, Variety's David Rooney admits, "The writing is old-fashioned and the humor a little hoary, but there's a sweet, self-effacing quality to Johnson's unforced stage manner, magnified by his willingness to play second fiddle whenever he has a puppet in hand."

While Jay Johnson: The Two And Only has an open-ended run, will the critics praise be enough to attract new audiences to this old-fashioned art form? If only Johnson himself could provide a little more word of mouth beyond his dummies.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
A Twofer Opening (September 28, 2006)

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