Epstein and Hassan's Big Noses/Thick Lips is a comedy piece which is more than simply funny. An integral part of the show is the identity of the performers. This interracial married couple use aspects of their own lives to illuminate the larger issues of race and gender relations. In the process, they reveal a great deal about themselves and even more about the world in general.
Epstein played himself, or at least a character named "Epstein." He never put on another mask and had no compunctions about acknowledging the audience; he even engaged them in conversation. Hassan, on the other hand, played herself and several other fully realized characters, most notably an elderly jazz musician named Joe Keyes and a teenage girl, one of her students, who accuses her of selling out her race.
Like any couple, Epstein and Hassan chat, squabble, tell about their day. Unlike most, they reenact their experiences, and, in the case of Hassan, become the people they have met with lightning skill. The embracing realism of their relationship as a couple lent the show a comfortable pace, like a conversation at home. That Epstein was aware of the audience and performed to them while Hassan was apparently oblivious led to some delightfully surreal moments.
The production was spare, involving no more than a few pieces of furniture scattered on an otherwise bare stage and basic lighting. No more was needed; the performers made it clear where they were: their living room, a bar, or even a park. This is a show that does not have to depend on its physical setting, but on the ability of the performers to be utterly convincing. There were stretches that needed tightening, or which went on too long with too little payoff, including a bit involving a quarrel and paper towels.
Copyright 1996 Maya Amis
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