Everything is going to hell. Time is running out. Worry, envy and doubt creep into our thoughts and we’re all going to die. If you follow the advice dispensed by Shaina Taub and her band, the best approach is to embrace the chaos, make a mess and don’t take any of it too seriously. In Old Hats, Ms. Taub and her band provided musical accompaniment for an evening of mostly silent comedic episodes by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, a pair whose exuberant clowning suggests they share Ms. Taub’s lighthearted outlook on the coming darkness.
The real mark of Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner’s comedic expertise is their ability to draw laughs from some well-heeled archetypes: the untalented magician, the sad hobo, and the untrustworthy politician are all suddenly funny again. Mr. Irwin is an absolute joy to watch. He is freakishly malleable, so much so that some of his more elastic acts resemble stage magic as much as they do slapstick. Mr. Shiner isn’t a straight man by any means, but his presence in many of the shorter scenes provides a more grounded melancholy and frustration that serves as an appropriate counterpoint to Mr. Irwin’s rubbery glee. Together they offer the kind of clowning that leads one to be half grinning a block from the venue, content in the knowledge that a seemingly bygone era of comedy is being kept alive.
There is an almost indulgent excess of artistic talent in New York City. The question is not whether the pool of talent exists but what it will be used for. Some folks use their gifts to test the limits of the abstract, some give voice to profound misery, some question the very nature of what it means to be human. Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner have decided to devote themselves to silliness. It is one of the most noble callings of which I know.