Jay Johnson - The Two and Only

Time Out New York


By Adam Feldman
Oct 5-11 2006

If you only see one ventriloquism showcase on Broadway this decade—and honestly, what are the chances you’ll see more than one?—make it Jay Johnson’s extraordinary The Two and Only!, which earns its exclamation point and then some. The immensely gifted Johnson spends most of the evening playing straight man, while giving voice to an eclectic assortment of previously inanimate costars: two little wooden men, a monkey, a snake, a vulture, a tennis ball, a dry-erase-board doodle and, briefly, a decapitated head. Johnson can throw his voice like a Cy Young–winning pitcher, but his keenly honed technical skills are only part of the package. Equal measures puppet show, magic act, history lesson, memoir and vaudeville comedy routine, The Two and Only! is astoundingly entertaining.

Ventriloquists no longer command the popular attention that they did in the golden age of Edgar Bergen; Johnson, a series regular on the frothy 1970s sitcom Soap, is perhaps the only practitioner of his ancient art to command any mass-culture name recognition today. He is upholding an endangered tradition, and there are traces of gentle sadness in his nostalgia; those who come to the show expecting a simple dummy act may be surprised to find themselves sniffling at Johnson’s tender account of his friendship with the older ventriloquist who carved his first wood partner. Most of the time, however, Johnson’s capable hands transform the audience into his happy toy accomplices, with mouths carved into perpetual smiles.