Downtown Robot Meets South Pacific Mishap in The Jester of Tonga

Joe Silovsky and chatty metal friend
Richard Termine

The Jester of Tonga, Joe Silovsky's multimedia performance piece about human frailty, mints a new, non-human star. Silovsky explores his obsession with a News of the Weird tale, a story that broke in 2001 about an American businessman, Jesse Bogdonoff, who secured the title of Court Jester of Tonga and whose financial dealings somehow lost over $20 million of Tonga’s money.

Silovsky meanders around P.S.122’s downstairs stage with a geeky nonchalance; at one point, he says, “I’m going to need a minute to set up for this next scene,” then turns on a jazz record while searching through various suitcases and assembling low-budget wonders—smeary overhead projections, pop-up dioramas, toy theaters. About 20 minutes into the proceedings, he summons his co-star, Stanley, who plays the role of Bogdonoff.

Stanley’s a winning, kittenish robot, fitted with a head that swivels, eyes that roll, a mouth that opens and closes, and legs, arms, and fingers that twitch and shudder. He brings a strangeness to the proceedings, but also a measure of gravity. His presence seems to quiet Silovsky, allowing him to proceed with his narration. Stanley also offers a much more sympathetic portrait of Bogdonoff than most human actors would. Rarely has a mechanical performance seemed such a delight.

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