There’s one thing Tape Face sure does love about Las Vegas: the dollar stores.
He says this off stage — because the man with the gaffer’s tape over his mouth doesn’t say anything on stage at all.
But you see why the silent prop comic would get excited about the abundant discount stores around town. We’ve seen Las Vegas shows with a lot more money but less imagination than the New Zealand performance artist, who made it a long way with (singing) oven mitts, (light saber) tape measures and balloons to shoot with staple guns.
Tape Face (Sam Wills) moves his lo-fi charms into the Flamingo Las Vegas for a limited run after “America’s Got Talent” blew up an act previously known only to those at Edinburgh’s Fringe festival.
Fans will now need to think of the “Talent” bits as “greatest hits,” or the novelty may wear off quickly when the staple-gun fight and other TV gags are repeated.
The trade-off is a stronger rapport with the audience, especially when you start to realize how many people are being pulled to the stage: at least 14 of them at this show, making your adrenaline notch up every time he steps off the stage to find someone.
The cabaret space also amplifies the silent-movie persona. Tape Face speaks volumes with those eyes of his, trying to teach specific movements to three slow-learning guys for a purpose eventually revealed, one involving a Jacksons song that will always make you smile.
So will the big finale, a payoff for a countdown set in motion early on, after a recruit presses a big red button that the audience — but not the button-pusher — sees clearly labeled as a no-no to punch. The periodic countdown alerts give a sense of build-up to what’s otherwise a succession of unconnected routines, one audience recruit after the next.
The big finish gets the whole audience in on the act, turning a sinister setup — revenge on that apocalyptic button pusher! — into innocent playground fun.
The character’s real secret isn’t the tape, but a childlike gentleness. He’s a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Edward Scissorhands. But Pee-wee always had the acid-trip underpinnings of insanity rippling through his cackle. No one seems nervous about following Tape Face to the stage, even when he’s setting up an elaborate pulley-and-rope system to send a toy sword sailing toward a volunteer’s midsection.
In his opening week, the star was slipping into the room well before showtime, taking a seat on the pop-up stage in back. It takes awhile to notice him, before a trickle and then a steady stream of people start in with the selfies.
Who knows if this will continue once word spreads. But the symbolism can’t be beat. You’d have to go see a hypnotist to find a show where the performer and audience work more closely together. And this odd character in our midst not only makes himself heard, but makes us see that nothing has to be ordinary.
Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.