Words Don't Work
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 14, 2011
Words Don’t Work is a mime performance by the Broken Box Mime Theater: white face, black close-fit clothing, vignette structure with musical support, titles on placards, and black cubes for set pieces. If you’re not already a fan of mime (or silent films) this production is a fine introduction to the art form. If you are a silent-story aficionado, you’ll probably have a good time. I am and I did.
There are ten vignettes separated by blackouts and title cards during the 90-minute production, most of which recall the classic silent legacy of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, neither of whom is thought of as a mime but indeed was. Mime encompasses any form of silent storytelling and, sadly, gets short shrift by “real” theater actors and their audiences who usually shrug off the whole white-faced, box trapped, tightrope-walking art form as childish and somehow not worth their time. I found it courageous that the Broken Box Mime Theater exists at all. Thankfully, they’re very good at what they do.
The eight actors of the Broken Box Mime Theater are all very strong performers: physically specific, bold in their choices, dynamic, compelling, and frankly very attractive. They have what it takes to make a wonderful ensemble, they’re effortlessly tuned to each other, understand composition from the inside (there is no single director at work here), inhabit and transform time as a unit, and understand the idea that the whole is greater than any individual part. That alone makes me hopeful that they’ll continue to work together.
Of the ten scenes in Words Don’t Work, seven are character or situation sketches where nothing actually happens, there’s no dramatic event or any sort of obstacle that the characters work to overcome or deal with. At best, these sketches offer fine displays of irony without anything really developing. The three vignettes where characters engage in conflict really involve the audience on a more sophisticated, dramatic level. Herein lies the weakness of Words Don’t Work: there’s too much material and most of it is not theater-worthy. Yet.
Structure and content are the providence of the playwright and director, neither of which this company has the benefit of working with. Chaplin did it all by himself. The world famous mime Marcel Marceau actually made a career of it. The Broken Box Mime Theater needs some more time to hone their sense of what is inherently dramatic, but the building blocks are all there. They should be proud of their achievement, especially when so many of them only recently graduated from Tufts University (where many practiced mime in the student-based mime troupe HYPE!).
Silent storytelling is a rare skill and practicing it will certainly nourish and develop the already abundant talent of the Broken Box Mime Theater.