The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
‘The Two and Only’ is one-of-a-kind fun
by Mark Lowry
firstname.lastname@example.orgDALLAS — In this age of countless forms of electronic entertainment, Jay Johnson’s one-man, multidummy show The Two and Only! isn’t likely to persuade any youngsters to carry on the craft he has been doing for so long: ventriloquism. (Probably not even fellow ventriloquist Terry Fator, who reached millions more than Johnson has thanks to the reality show America’s Got Talent, can accomplish the feat of popularizing an antiquated art.)
But in exploring ventriloquism’s history and telling his own, with the help of several very animated friends, Johnson does convince us that the talent is rare and special. The show almost feels like his own way of convincing himself that he’s not crazy, as some have concluded about practitioners of this craft.
Johnson’s show, which won a Tony Award this year and is directed by Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel, played its first of eight performances at Dallas’ Majestic Theatre on Tuesday. Big D kicks off its national tour, fitting for a West Texas guy who went to the University of North Texas and spent many years performing here.
On a striking set (by Beowulf Boritt) of stacked trunks, suitcases and baskets on the horizontal and a swooped-up vertical floor, Johnson spends time with several of his pals, including a tennis ball named Spaulding, a loud, wiry monkey named Darwin, Nethernore the vulture, Amigo the snake and the disembodied head of Long John La Feat. Their voices are thrown by Johnson, some with superfast repartee between human and creation, and each is amazing.
His most special “wooden Americans” are his first major dummy, Squeaky, handcrafted by ventriloquism legend Arthur Sieving, and Bob, who was his puppet when he played a ventriloquist in the TV series Soap. Squeaky’s response when Johnson tells him that he wasn’t cast in Soap because he’s too sweet-looking is one of the show’s many priceless moments.
Johnson gets that misty-eyed, shaky voice when speaking nostalgically of Sieving, and in these segments the show almost becomes overly sentimental. But at the same time, it’s a sweet love letter to the art form. And by the end of The Two and Only!, we are convinced that what Johnson does is exactly that.
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only!8 p.m. through Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and SundayMajestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St., Dallas$15-$67817-467-2787 or 214-631-2787www.dallassummermusicals.org
Be advised: Some strong languageRun time: One hour, 35 minutes with no intermissionBest reason to go: The one and only Johnson