JOAN OF ARPpO
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
August 11, 2007
Engaged in fierce combat with her washing machine, her clothespins, a pile of dirty socks, a tin-washtub monster, and a giant pair of plaid bloomers with a mind of their own, Gardi Hutter's washerwoman Joan is a stalwart heroine with perfect comic timing and a refusal to be beaten down by her humdrum circumstances. Her solo clown show, JOAN OF ARPpO, is a wonderful piece of whimsy for children and adults alike—even, or perhaps especially, those adults who normally quail at the phrase "one-woman show." The show is a joy from start to finish—even the curtain call is a perfectly choreographed set piece that brings down the house.
Hutter is a small figure in a large costume—a scraggly wig, and a patched apron over enormously padded breasts and buttocks, which themselves often become absurd obstacles to her small successes. Armed with a big yellow book of tales of Joan of Arc and other heroines, the washerwoman shifts from dueling imaginary knights with her imaginary sword—with a mixture of success and defeat—to doing battle with the items in her immediate world. A clothesline seems determined to resist her efforts to hang socks on it; she gets stuck in a variety of pots and washtubs; she tumbles into her washing machine—and carries on through each scrape with ingenuity, inventive new uses of the objects in her world, and an indomitable spirit that keeps her laughing at her situation, at herself, and occasionally at the audience. Joan is more likely to survive ruefully than to triumph unconditionally, which lends the show a dose of pathos along with plentiful laughs.
The wonder of the piece is less in what Hutter does (much of which defies useful description) than in the precision, specificity, and extraordinary physicality of how she does it. She's so completely in the moment, at every moment, that she almost seems surprised at the results of some of her schemes. Her facial expressions alone would make a show—at one point, she's trapped in a washtub, folded down into a small heap so that only her eyes are visible between wig and chest. With her eyes alone, she keeps telling the story—and getting a laugh.
In her native Switzerland, Gardi Hutter needs no introduction—she is apparently enough of a household name that she appears in crossword puzzles. As far as I can tell, this is her first appearance in New York. Go see her show—and help to make her a household name in America.