Thomas Monckton’s “The Pianist” strikes a comic note at RIAF.
Thomas Monckton is a long, lanky guy. He reminds me of a lot of people. Jim Carrey, Harpo Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan and Roberto Benigni, for starters. He reminds me of Thomas Monckton most of all — no mean feat when you’re creating a character of archetypal inevitability. I refer to the title character of “The Pianist,” Monckton’s show at this year’s RIAF.
That character does everything the hard way.
Basically, for tonight’s performance, all he has to do is come out from around the curtain, sit down at the piano and play. He actually does this, but it takes him 55 minutes.
First, he has to get from behind the curtain. His face and hands press out, but he can’t get through. Then he finds an opening and emerges one leg at a time.
Finally crossing the stage, the Pianist whacks his head on a dangling diadem from a chandelier. After fighting with the chandelier for 10 minutes, he makes it to the piano and stool. Both are covered with clingy shrouds. He eventually removes them, after diving into the piano headfirst. He finally tosses the shroud away — removing a piano leg in the process.
So, abundant physical comedy. Monckton created these bits of business in collaboration with Finland’s Circo Aereo troupe. Words fall short of justice describing what he does. It’s like saying, “Buster Keaton stood still while one wall of a house fell right on top of him.”
To see how funny it is, you have to see it.
Suffice to say, the evening descended into an artful simulation of chaos. In search of sheet music, The Pianist went to war with an assistant in the balcony. They belted each other with rolled up bits of musicology; papers flew; the audience got into the act. At one point, he walked into the audience, grabbed my shoe and prepared to lob it at his assistant. I traded him some sheet music and got my shoe back.
He eventually did sit down at the piano and play. Pretty good, too.
Monckton’s act resists category. It’s a live silent movie. It’s old-school clowning, Cirque de Soleil-style acrobatics and miming — with a little contortionism thrown in. All this cleverness serves character. The Pianist is a klutz at war with every physical object in the universe; the Pianist goes with the flow and eventually plays his not-so-easy-piece, despite the objection of every object. It is, as they say, an object lesson.
My clever talk gives the wrong impression. Humor resists analysis. A joke (or sight gag) is either funny or it’s not — you laugh instantly, before you think about it. If you have to think, you don’t laugh.
Monckton earns shameless belly-laughter from kids and adults alike at the most sophisticated performing-arts festival in town.
Pretty funny, if you ask me.