League of Eggs-traordinary Gentlemen: Lyford and Sobelle are absurdist superheros. Or maybe just guys in hats.

The performance group called rainpan 43 is only in town for another week, but you can still catch the three shows it brought down from Philadelphia: All Wear Bowlers (three shows left), which they premiered at the Philly Fringe Festival back in ’03; Amnesia Curiosa (running through this weekend), a meditation on medicine and memory that was first performed in the surgical theater of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital; and their latest, an absurdist take on technology called Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines (next week). That show features elaborate Rube Goldberg devices designed by brothers Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala, who have—fun fact—“built and raced fifteen toilet tricycles twelve blocks in five and a half minutes.” The festival’s lightning-round repertory schedule—coupled with the filing deadlines of a weekly paper—means we can’t get to those last two shows before they pull up stakes, but we can say this much about All Wear Bowlers: It’s pretty great. Performer/creators Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle burnish classic vaudeville shtick (pratfalls, spit-takes, sleight-of-hand, bad ventriloquism) with a profound sense of existential dread. It’s, um, funnier than it sounds. It’s also impressively skillful: The show’s central illusion, that of Lyford and Sobelle repeatedly stepping on and off a silent-movie screen, is seamlessly done every time, even when it involves a nonplussed theatergoer. (Yes, there’s audience participation. Cowboy up.) In the 90 or so minutes it takes Lyford’s and Sobelle’s bowler-hatted tramps to face down various menaces (which include but are not limited to: the audience, the Void, and Grade-A, farm-fresh eggs of mysterious and possibly sinister provenance), the performers squeeze in the expected shout-outs to Magritte, Chaplin, Beckett, Laurel and Hardy. They also know what the great comedy teams before them knew: Slapstick is as much about attitude as it is about taking a hearty face-plant. Thus they invest their absurdist clowns with clearly defined personalities that keep this loosely structured evening of “new vaudeville” grounded, approachable, and unpretentious. Director Aleksandra Wolska moves things along nicely with a consistent fuel mixture (two parts comic to one part just-plain-weird) and pulls off the evening’s astonishing variety of multimedia logistical challenges without a hitch. If All Wear Bowlers is any indication of the kind of conceptually innovative work the other two rainpan 43 shows will feature—and it likely is—the very least they’ll be is interesting. That’s a risk worth taking. —Glen Weldon

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