Like Martin and Lewis, Penn and Teller, or Cheney and Rumsfeld, Philip Earl Johnson and Brian Howard as MooNiE and BrooN exploit the latent hostility in any buddy pairing for both laughs and pathos. Johnson and Howard present a two-act vaudevillian entertainment. In the first half, they appear individually, with Howard performing a sarcastic busker’s routine and Johnson a meticulous, lyrical silent comedy. They combine forces in the second act, still playing versions of their initial characters (though Johnson now talks). Throughout, they intersperse spirited audience participation and sideshow stunts (fire-eating, bed of nails) with an aggressive, improvisational humor. Some of the bits are more effective than others: a meandering beat-style poem about cat stylists, for instance, didn’t go beyond mildly amusing no matter how drawn out it became. But Johnson and Howard have managed to develop winning stage personalities, capable of easy banter both with each other and with the audience. Their show is by turns inspired and thrilling (and in some cases, as with a bit involving an audience member, a nipple clip, and six juggling pins, both). And anyone who can convince a paying customer to stand on stage for several minutes with his head stuck to a broom has my vote. (John Beer)
MooNiE and BrooN: Foolish Mortals! plays at Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 West Belmont, (773)883-1980, through March 13.