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Bob Baker
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What makes Nina Conti a terrific ventriloquist? Set aside the facts that she is beautiful, charming, and charismatic. What makes her a great vent is that she is a great actress and wonderful, original writer.

These were the conclusions I came to after seeing her show Talk to the Hand off Broadway last night. The 59E59 theater is a relatively small room, holding about 200 people. Everyone has a good seat, and the show has a very intimate feel about it.

Unlike many vents, Nina has a solid background in acting. In fact, she was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I believe this enables her not only to create memorable characters (particularly Monkey and Granny), but also to create very believable separation between herself and her characters. Indeed, Nina seems as much an audience member as we are, laughing at her character’s jokes as if she’s never heard them before, being genuinely embarrassed at some of the things the puppets say, and really seeming not to know what they are going to do or say next.

As for the writing, it is not the simple set-up/punch line fare so common in vent acts. There is a flow, an arc to the characters’ sets and a knowing intelligence that underlies everything. No one could call Nina’s act cheesy. Some of the jokes require some real cultural awareness, and there are some inside show biz toss-offs as well. (Incidentally, the show was co-created by Bill Dare, a well-known British comedy writer and producer.)

Nina opens the show with Monkey. You may have seen some early YouTube clips of Nina in which Monk says he wants to “work the room,” and Nina tells him he can’t. Well, in this intimate show, Monkey works the room, interviewing people in the front row, which is about 10 feet from Nina. There is wonderful, improvised by-play with the audience members, and this makes up a large portion of Monk’s set. Nina’s expertise in comedy is demonstrated by her quick improv work, but also in the way she weaves information about the spectators into other portions of the show. Very clever call-backs abound.

Monk’s set also includes a bit in which he hypnotizes Nina with hilarious results. As someone who has used hypnosis both professionally in my medical practice and on stage, I was struck by how realistic Nina’s supposed entrance into trance looked. She did not look like someone pretending to be hypnotized; she looked like someone who was genuinely in an hypnotic state.

Nina introduces two new characters: a posh owl who happens to be a very clever poet, and Lydia, whom I would describe as a middle-aged tough broad. Lydia does not like the voice or accent that Nina has given her and has the audience call out different accents for her to try on for size. Clearly, Nina is a very versatile mimic, though I think this semi-improvised bit will get funnier as Nina grows more experienced with it.

Especially wonderful was the part of the show with Granny, who is the most charming “old lady” puppet character I’ve ever seen. She radiates sweetness, and the great laughs in this segment emerge from her delightful character. Granny performs the channeling and mind-reading bits you may have seen on YouTube and then sings while Nina downs a glass of vodka. Those of you with magic backgrounds will chortle with delight at Nina’s out-of-the-box use of some magic principles in Granny’s set.

Hypnosis makes a reprise with Granny, and this bit garners the longest sustained laughs in the show. I’m not going to reveal the nature of the gag, but it’s a great example of a masterful performer doing more with less.

To close, Monkey returns and Nina performs her classic bit in which she “deconstructs” the act, and indeed vent, to its essence. It brings Talk to the Hand to a perfect end.

Technically, Nina is very good. Her lip control and puppet manipulation are flawless. My only quibble is her choice of substitute consonants for the plosives. She uses k for p and g for b, and sometimes the substitutions don’t work. A non-vent friend who attended with me said that a few times the characters were hard to understand. What’s a gagoon?

Obviously, I strongly recommend that you see Nina’s show if she is ever appearing near you. (One audience member actually flew in from L.A. to see the show.) Not only will you have a great time as an audience member, but also you’ll be inspired as a ventriloquist to bring your own performance to a higher level. Seeing such brilliance and originality on stage does that to you.

Now the eat-your-hearts-out photo:

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Thanks for the review Bob! Wish I could have been there.
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Steve at The Dummy Shoppe
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Great write up Dr. Bob. Thanks so much for taking the time to lay it all out. Being able to read such a thorough review takes the sting out of not being able to be there.

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Great review Doc. I too wish I could have been there but your review says it all. An accomplished actor, comedienne and ventriloquist. I have loved her routines for years but because of content I have not posted them on Ventriloquist Central. I have too many youngsters that come to the site.
Dickens & Dave
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Great review, and your photo worked, I am eating my heart out.
I so would love to see the show, but I'm glad it obviously went good for her and was enjoyed by all.

"Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest."
Bob Baker
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On 2011-11-11 15:43, marshalldoll wrote:
I have loved her routines for years but because of content I have not posted them on Ventriloquist Central. I have too many youngsters that come to the site.

I did not mention that this is a show with adult humor and language. I was thinking of bringing my 11 year-old daughter, but the show is listed as being for people 16 and older. I'm glad I didn't bring her. As far as posting, if you look on YouTube, there are clips which are clean. But you have to look for them.

Chuck Lyons
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Wow Thank you Dr Bob for sharing that wonderful review. I wish I could have seen her show but your review gives us a great feel for it. THank you.
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Great review Bob Smile

Nina is without a single doubt... a fantastic ventriloquist and one of the world's best! Smile
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Great review. I would have loved to have been there!!
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