Lorenzo Pisoni's one-man show Humor Abuse attempts to juggle some pretty complex subjects under the guise of light-hearted clowning, but in the end the show feels more like a self-indulgent exorcism of Pisoni's conflicted feelings about his father. How else should the audience interpret this true story about a son who assumes his father's act after the father abandons him, and as an adult turns the experience into a staged memoir built on the resulting identity-conflict issues (albeit one with some very well-executed gags and stunts)? That's going a bit fast- the first part of the story (all true, by the way) concerns Pisoni's growing up inside the one-ring Pickle Family Circus, a legendary Bay Area commedia dell'arte troupe started by his parents Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider.
The adult Lorenzo's anecdotes of his childhood are amusing, endearing and make for a fascinating subject. Already mimicking his father's act at the age of two, with extremely poignant photographs the two of them (alone and together) projected on the same backdrop used by the Pickles to illustrate the events described, it's the real-life version of a fantasy most of us had as a child performed by a guy who actually lived it out.
But as both Pisonis grow older, and the son adopts the stage identity of the father who's left his family and the circus they founded behind, the play becomes a kind of chalk circle with the character of the clown performed by both men in the center. If younger the Pisoni and director/co-creator Erica Schmidt weren't so intent on making this tale of conflicted identity stemming from a broken father-son relationship so funny, it might be painful to watch. Instead, it's a thinly-veiled reproach disguised as homage, which is just uncomfortable to watch, especially coming from such an obviously talented performer as Pisoni.
The bitterness and sense of accusation could be alleviated if we knew more about Pisoni the father, instead of just Pisoni the Pickle, but the audience is only told what he did, not why. We also never learn much about the mother and sister. Omitting the rest of the family's story from the play constricts it to the point where at the end it's just the son juggling his own paternal issues- emulating the man without celebrating him. Too bad, because there's probably a damn good play lurking somewhere under the reciprocal abuse.