The Two and Only

Friday, October 13th, 2006 | All Things, Arts, Friends

I had a pair of tickets to see Jay Johnson‘s one-man, several-puppet show and invited along B, with whom I’d felt a bit out of touch these couple of weeks. It gave us a chance to reconnect, which was nice. He arrived at my apartment early, bearing gifts from his recent business trip to Austin: souvenirs from my favorite Texas barbecue joint, The Salt Lick. Sweet!

Jay Johnson

The Two and Only was advertised as a showcase for the ventriloquist, best known for his supporting role on the controversial 1970s sitcom Soap. I don’t generally have a lot of interest in ventriloquists — the whole artform seems a bit antiquated in this era of CGI special effects, and I’ll admit it: the dummies — sorry: “wooden Americans,” as Johnson offers — creep me out a little. But Jay Johnson was a true master of his craft. Over the course of the 90-minute intermission-less show, he played straight-man to a host of vivid characters that emerged from baskets and trunks — and in the most imaginative bit: a dry erase board — strewn about the Helen Hayes Theatre stage: a severed head, Amigo the snake (pictured below — poorly, but it was the best I could manage), Nethernore the vulture, Spaulding the tennis ball, Darwin the manic monkey, his first professional partner, Squeaky and his former Soap  co-star, Bob.

A hilarious sequence revolved around the fact that “Bob” was named by a writer who “obviously knew nothing about ventriloquism”. Well, not quite so obviously to an audience of similarly ignorant non-ventriloquists. But as Johnson explained: “B” is an implosive consonant, which forces one’s lips to move to pronounce it – the downfall of any ventriloquist. During one rapid-fire exchange between Johnson and Bob, enormous pains were taken to steer Bob from the letter “B.” (Johnson pulled it off eventually, though, and brilliantly. “Bastards!“)

Jay Johnson

Johnson delivered a brief history of ventriloquism and an explanation of the mechanics of “voice-throwing,” interwoven with an autobiographical account of his humble beginnings in show business as a kid working the lodge circuit in Abernathy, Texas. Aside from being enormously talented, Johnson came off as a genuinely friendly, sentimental guy. The most moving parts of the evening recounted his acquaintance and long distance mentorship under a retired vaudevillian named Arthur Sieving, who carved Johnson his first dummy.

Johnson appears to be one of that rare breed who manages to carve a successful career out of a childhood dream — and there’s quite an inspiration in that.

There are 2 Comments ... The Two and Only

October 19, 2006

What’s your childhood dream?

October 19, 2006

I had this one with startling regularity…

Go for it ...