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Gould and Stearns: Simple Gifts -12/14/1998

Orginal sketches, physical comedy and song styling by Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns. Set design by Joan Peters, Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns. Directed by Avner “The Eccentric” Eisenberg.

Krannert Center’s Family Series December 13, 1998. Colwell Playhouse, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana.


When the kids are a little too wound up from parties and shopping and the tree and the lights and the search for a Furby... It’s time for a show like “Gould & Stearns: Simple Gifts.”

The whole point of this sweet little afternoon’s entertainment was to calm down, enjoy the season, and not take it or yourself too seriously. Expert comic performers Peter Gould and Stephen Stearns came all the way from Vermont to make that point, bringing nothing but a charming, eccentric set, a couple of pairs of pajamas, and their own talent to the stage at Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse.

Employing puns and pratfalls, jokes and juggling, Gould & Stearns succeeded in keeping the children -- and the parents -- in the audience amused and interested, offering hijinks with a heart as they illustrated that simple gifts -- like spending time rather than spending money -- are the best.

The framing device was also simple -- two goofy guys are stranded at a motel when they’d rather be on their way home for the holidays. To pass the time (and to outmaneuver each other on the issue of who gets the good bed), Stearns (the shorter, more cheerful and more mischievous one) involves Gould (taller, grumpier) in the telling of two stories.

The first, about a homeless clown called Giovanni who brings joy wherever he goes, was very cleverly staged and winningly performed. The juggling and sight gags worked just great, and the warm, touching ending made its impact.

The second story -- about the origin of Hanukah -- was good fun as well, featuring inspired props like shaving cream and Q-tips. If not as sharply focused or as smoothly performed as the the Giovanni piece, it still succeeded.

I also liked the set, designed by Joan Peters, plus Gould & Stearns themselves. This brightly colored, off-kilter version of a tacky little motel room worked perfectly to showcase the comedy, and some of the nuttier touches -- like real fruit that peels off the painting over the bed -- seemed quite inspired.

The only real negative was a problem with the sound system. There seemed to be music cues missing early on, and one of the microphones developed a nasty problem midway through Giovanni’s story. Still, Gould & Stearns worked around it, and I would guess most of the audience was unaware anything was wrong.

At an hour-and-a-half, “Simple Gifts” hit the perfect balance of giving the audience its money’s worth and yet not exceeding the youthful audience’s attention span.

And when a big chunk of the audience leaves wearing red clown noses, it’s a pretty safe bet they enjoyed themselves.

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