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Theater Review

The Art of Mime in 'A Feast of Fools'

The talents of Geoff Hoyle and assistant Gina Leishman work best outside the box of stuffy sophistication.

June 20, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LA JOLLA--"A Feast of Fools," which made its world premiere Sunday at the La Jolla Playhouse, is a 90-minute tour de force in the art of mime by veteran comic Geoff Hoyle.

Whether this is a tour you want to take probably depends on your level of interest in mime, a rarefied art that can either be fascinating or frustrating. If you need an occasional one-liner or verbal put-down, hie thee to the nearest comedy store.

"Fools" was conceived and written by Hoyle as a kind of capper to 25 years of mime, acrobatics, juggling and pratfalls.

Although the spotlight is mainly on Hoyle, his accompanist, Gina Leishman, nearly steals the show. With the deadpan looks of Imogene Coca and a touch of Victor Borge-like piano shtick, Leishman is a wonderful second banana. She also has the evening's only words, a respectable sendup of Marlene Dietrich singing a torch song.

But "Fools" is Hoyle's show, and he's determined to make the most of it. He's limber and rubber-faced and, although some of the bits are overlong, he rarely misfires.

Aficionados will remember Hoyle as Zazu in the original Broadway production of "The Lion King," for which he won a New York Drama Desk award. He performed "Don Quixote de La Jolla" for the playhouse in 1990 and toured with Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family Circus.

"Feast of Fools' " funniest skits are those with the most visual appeal and least attempt at intellectualizing. (No, he does not walk against a wind machine or find himself trapped in a box.)

Hoyle's dueling waiters--one slick, one bumbling--and his incompetent but lovable magician are the evening's highlights. His Mr. Sniff, a fellow with an improbably canine-ish nose, makes no linear sense and thus is a delight.

Less successful is a prolonged take between Hoyle and a puppet on a stick, which seems to have something to do with death and dying. Less is more, even in mime.

And Lily Tomlin long ago retired the bit of an adult dressed as a tot, sitting in an oversized highchair.

The poignancy of "Mr. Brown's Rendezvous" (the skit titles are flashed above the stage) wears thin, and his show-ending ages-of-man seems optional.

Lighting designer David Cuthbert does a wonderful job of light and shadows and different colors as background.

The problem with "Fools" and with mime as entertainment is that it easily becomes self-reverential. You get the feeling there is a caption: You're watching comedy for the thinking person and you are very sophisticated for being here.

The playhouse does not just embrace this concept, it hugs it and rolls around the carpet with it. Lest we forget that others have used mime, the theater is decorated with immense portraits of Chaplin, Keaton, Harpo Marx and others.

Say what you will about your average stand-up wannabe, he or she does not require immense portraits of Henny Youngman and Bob Hope as props. Some things really are best left unsaid.

"A Feast of Fools," La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla Village Drive and Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends July 14. Tickets: $19-$49. (858) 550-1010. Running time: 90 minutes.

Geoff Hoyle...the clown

Gina Leishman...his accompanist

Written by Geoff Hoyle. Directed by Richard Seyd. Original music by Gina Leishman. Scenic designer Patrick Larsen, costume designer Mary Larson, lighting designer David Cuthbert.

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