Donlon & Pitt Serve Smorgasbord of Clowning & Mime
by Kim Waldron
Mimes and clowns on a bare stage—This is live theater, not your 3,264th Netflix movie.
Flying Actor Studio founders James Donlon and Leonard Pitt host an evening of foolery at Stage Werx Theatre. These old pros showcase their past hits, and Donlon debuts his new skit “Zoo Planet,” my favorite of the evening. Have you, too, noticed how so many folks in S.F. resemble animals?
In a short video, beloved San Francisco clown Geoff Hoyle explores with wide eyed concern with the camera filming him, which turns into a very meta examination of the wall that bedevils mimes.
Next up, famed mime Leonard Pitt astounds us by seeming to eat his own face. Pitt has another lovely bit with a Bali mask that he expands to kindly offering the audience a lesson on how the magic is made.
Pitt is assisted by his grandson Miles for a magic trick—the grandson provides the set up and straight-man lines, and even dives into the audience to get a volunteer. The kid has more poise and confidence than most adults, so his future seems set.
James Donlon’s skits feature elegant themes that emerge gradually. His hapless “Worker of the Future,” with hilarious sound effects, evokes sympathy for the poor worker and the uncomfortable recognition that we’re nearly that guy already.
That “Zoo Planet” of Donlon delighted me. I’m convinced Donlon rides the same San Francisco bus lines as I do—he certainly captures the denizens to perfection.
The second act of each show is different: Opening night featured Michael Hayes, an energetic, absurd clown and musician. Wearing a top hat, with his belly exposed by a too short shirt, Hayes enchants us with agreeable nuttiness.
Hayes becomes the Great Garbolski family, a multi-character experience. At first, I thought they were Russian, then Hungarian—but the planet Neptune cannot be ruled out. This eastern European clan includes a son Peter who is somehow a cowboy. Of course.
Hayes’ nonsense calls our everyday world into question, hilariously. He explores family, pickle-making, and offers a slyly subversive dose of what it means to be American.
He also performed the oddest segue I’ve ever seen—but it works. When his conspiracy theorist morphs into the Emperor of Salami-Land, it made perfect sense to me. This Emperor goes on to perform an anthem any clown would envy.
In future shows, watch for:
“Mingalaba” by James Sundquist
“The Miss American Dream Show” by Sierra Camille
“Words from A Cuban Father” by Alina Ceñal
Tired of Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and the rest of ‘em? Try some live theater. Running only until March 4, so mark your calendar.
“Up in the Air” –hosted by James Donlon & Leonard Pitt, by Flying Actor Studio, at Stage Werx Theatre, 446 Valencia Street, San Francisco. Info: FlyingActorStudio.com – to March 4, 2023.
Cast: Sierra Camille (March 3), Alina Ceñal (March 4), James Donlon, Geoff Hoyle, Leonard Pitt, and James Sundquist.
Banner photo: James Donlon