Hoots and hollers for a Ventriloquist

Ventriloquist has a Mouthful of Comedy
Laughter rolls loud and clear at Cape Playhouse

By Libby Hughes, reviewer for Cape Cod Today

Ninety minutes of a ventriloquist? With no intermission? You've got to be kidding! It's all true and every minute rakes in bullets of laughter from the opening-night-audience at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. Jay Johnson and his wooden buddies win the hearts and laughing lungs of Cape theatre-goers as the Playhouse winds down its 83rd season.

Artistry


Bob and Jay, and...

Jay and his familiar.

Artistic Director, Evans Haile, makes his final pitch to potential and renewing subscribers. He champions the talents of ventriloquist, Jay Johnson, in this show, The Two and Only, as a dynamite piece of artistry. "Artistry on stage makes theatre special by sharing it with friends," Haile said. "That's what we try to do here."

Awards

I was skeptical and somewhat reluctant to attend The Two and Only, but I wouldn't have missed it once it was underway. Now I understand why Jay Johnson made it to Broadway in 2006 and why he was the only ventriloquist to ever win a Tony Award from the American Theatre Wing for the "Best Special Theatrical Event" in 2007.  Johnson also captured the New England Critics Award in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When you see his performance, you, too, will understand why.

Original format

Directors Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel, together with Jay Johnson, have crafted a compelling piece of staging around Jay and the puppets, enhanced by Clifton Taylor's lighting design and simple set arrangement by Beowulf Borritt. The show tells a story that Jay weaves around each of his six or so puppet personalities unlike Edgar Bergen, who remained pretty much stationary, with his pal, Charlie McCarthy.

The story is about the history of ventriloquism, Johnson's autobiography, his mentor, and his television success in a series called "Soap." There is somber, almost ghoulish, music that opens the curtain to a dimly lit stage of trunks, boxes, suitcases, and wicker baskets. We know what's inside each of them--the puppets we come to regard as real.

History of ventriloquism

Johnson takes us back to 850 A.D. to the wiles of necromancy and hypnotism, demons and ghostly spirits. He claims that Satan was the first ventriloquist. He introduces the audience to Jacob, the nutcracker, and Dead Head, who spin tales of creepy witchcraft. The pace shifts to his boyhood in Texas and seeing his first show of Big John and Sparky. So smitten was he that when his father told him that Big John was the voice of Sparky, it changed his life. Jay wanted to be like Big John. For a kid with dyslexia and a college degree in marketing, Johnson had chosen the perfect career for his gifts and how to sell them.

Puppet personalities

His other puppets have unique personalities. Squeaky was his first and favorite because Jay's mentor, Arch, made him. Vulture is a bird that sings, "My way." Bob, the snobby puppet from the TV series "Soap," is always putting down and making himself superior to Jay. There is a wild, laughing Monkey, called Darwin, and a snappy little snake. Jay draws a face on one of those square, erasable boards and it comes to life with moving eyes and mouth.

Poignant ending

As Jay Johnson closes his show of hilarious banter, he has a poignant moment that turns our laughter to tears. See it to find out.

The Two and Only will surprise, delight, and entertain you. Well worth what Haile calls "artistry."

Until next year...!

Performances are August 31 to Sept.12. Evenings Monday through Saturday 8:00pm; Matinees: Wednesdays at 2:00pm; 1st Saturday at 4:00pm; second Thursday at 2:00pm. Cape Cod Center for the Arts, Route 6A in Dennis Village. Call box office at 508-385-3911.

At Boston University, Libby Hughes studied dramatic criticism with Elliot Norton, the doyen of Boston Drama Critics for over 50 years. Hughes has a novel, "White House Secrets," coming out in late fall. She edited Ginger Rogers' autobiography.

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