Monday, December 24, 2012

Regard of Flight (1983)

Irwin in a recent production

This week I’m going to take a look at several stage plays/musicals that were brought on to TV screens more or less intact. They are not technically films, nor are they in this form , wholly stage plays. First up one of the first things I ever recorded on VHS tape- Bill Irwin’s Regard of Flight.

Bill Irwin is a god. He is a screamingly funny man who is capable of breaking your heart as a dramatic actor. He is one of the finest clowns (in the traditional sense) that you will ever run across. He has won a large boat load of awards including one that gave him cash and called him a genius.

I stumbled upon Mr Irwin sometime around I discovered Regard of Flight. I don’t know where or how but I did. I then taped his Regard show when PBS ran it.

Regard of Flight is an hour long piece of clowning and theater that involves Irwin trying to explain the concept of “the New Vaudeville”. He is aided by a piano player who acts as a narrator, Greek chorus and hand of god. As the lecture unfolds he begins to intruded by a critic sitting in the audience. The performer(Irwin) soon begins a battle of wits with the critic who insists on getting the upper hand.

While the show is on its face a comedy of clowning, the film is also a meta-examination of not only clowning but also theater, criticism and numerous other subjects. Yes Irwin deflates the pompocity of theater types and critics, but at the same time he raises some intriguing questions about what we watch and why as well as why people perform and why.

I don’t care so much about the hows and whys, I just care about the laughs which are numerous and frequent. Once it gets going it’s purely live action Looney Tunes with Irwin and his critic playing a variation of Elmer and Bugs. This is stage magic at it’s best.

Almost 10 years ago the Signature Theater in New York, a theater group which specializes in doing whole seasons of the works of one playwright, did a season of Irwin’s work. Included in the season was Regard of Flight, which Irwin expanded by about 25 minutes with a coda that had the clown at home and interacting with a puppet version of himself. To be honest I don’t know if the new addition made any sense, but I didn’t care since I was laughing so hard that I literally hurt myself. I have no idea if that final bit was recorded but it should have been since it was just so damn funny.

If you get the chance to see Regard either live or on DVD or TV (it is was put out on videotape and I believe DVD) do so. It will make you laugh even a it teaches you some thing.

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