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.