Box of Fools
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 23, 2005
Buster Bins, purveyor of boxes, is having a bad day. Although a sign on his office wall proudly announces that it's been 7 days since the last accident on the factory floor (and 13 days since the last dismemberment!), this particular morning has gotten hopelessly out of control. Mr. Dunleavy is on line 1, complaining that the boxes Buster sold him have fallen apart (well, he did try to pack his 600-pound hogs in them, but...). Buster's Mom is on line 2, getting more and more upset each time Buster puts her on hold, trying to find out if he's coming over tonight for meatloaf. One of Buster's employees, McKenzie, is on line 3, requiring help with a crisis involving yet another box order. Posh customer Henrietta Swank (of the Mayfield Swanks) is at the door, hoping to get Buster to sell her some boxes to ship her antique porcelain chicken collection. And, to top it all off, Buster's receptionist, Rose, is quitting.
What's Buster supposed to do to keep up with it all? Well, Rose's departure leads him to call a temp agency, where super-helpful operator Melissa will set him up with someone to tide him over for the next week. Trouble is, poor distracted Buster, thinking he's still speaking to McKenzie, says, into the phone, something along the lines of, "Just what I need—a fool working here!" And Melissa, ever-efficient, sends one over, pronto.
And that's how the delightful silent clown, portrayed by Box of Fools' creator and star Jessica Putnam Peskay, happens to get a job as Buster's receptionist.
What ensues in this broad comic show, which combines Putnam Peskay's innocent, good-natured antics with a very silly, complicated plot involving Henrietta Swank's chickens, a doofus inspector named Muggins who's on her trail (without knowing it), and a hilarious auction at the county fair that features, delightfully, plenty of audience participation. All you really need to know is that everything works out nicely in the end, thanks mostly (though not entirely) to the off-kilter machinations of our Fool, whose name, at least for this show, is Miss Beep.
Although the auction scene in particular is a real hoot, and the humor is occasionally pitched directly at adults (one of the so-called antiques being auctioned off, for example—a cheesy looking lacquered plastic or ceramic banana—is said to be part of Josephine Baker's costume from a 1923 Cotton Club revue). But the target audience for Box of Fools would seem to be kids, the younger the better: Putnam Peskay's physical comedy, Kyle Lange's cartoonish characterization of Inspector Muggins, and the simple, broad jokes laced throughout Joshua Putnam Peskay's adorable script all seem to attest to this. And indeed, the biggest laugh of the evening—onstage as well as off—came when one of the younger members of the audience, in the spirit of the auction, shouted out a bid of "infinity" for one of Ms. Swank's supposedly rare chickens.
Box of Fools is well on its way to being not just an okay kids' show but a really extraordinary one. Clocking in at about 105 minutes, it's a bit too long right now; and the show's great underlying concept (noted in the program)—the idea that the Fool can teach Buster how to think "outside the box"—falters a bit in Act Two. (Its Act One manifestation is great: Miss Beep takes phone messages on a giant drawing pad, forcing Buster to decipher them in a whole new, fun way.)
The production values are clever and carefully wrought: backdrops (presumably painted by set designer James Burns) are particularly eye-filling and charming, but the whole layout of the show is smart and fun at the same time. The costumes are on-target as well, especially Putnam Peskay's colorful Fool's uniform (which she accessorizes with a strand of big blue pearls to add just the right "professional" touch as a receptionist).
Music by Stephen Jacobs and Eric Rockwin (some of it arranged and played by Ken Thomson) is appropriately perky. The cast of nine keeps the energy high and the seriousness quotient close to zero, which is exactly right; I was especially charmed by Ben Jones as Mr. Dunleavy, whose warm, dry persona makes this slightly dim-witted hog farmer into a real swell guy, and by Jacqueline van Biene, who is pretty funny as Henrietta Swank.
I had a great time at Box of Fools; creator/clown Jessica Putnam Peskay, author Joshua Putnam Peskay (her husband), and director Matthew A. Peskay (his brother) are doing great work here and I will be eager to see what they come up with next. Meanwhile, New Victory Theatre and others specializing in fare for small fry would do well to catch this show before it closes.