nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 21, 2010
Mummenschanz is really hard to describe. But it's easy to enjoy, and so my suggestion is, if your schedule permits over the next few weeks, to check it out. It is awe-inspiring fun for all ages, and even if you feel immersed in contemporary physical antic theatre of the sort that Blue Man Group specializes in, I think you'll find this European troupe's work to be original and unique.
The show is all about transformation. Many of the transformations happen in front of our eyes, always wondrously: there are two sequences, notably, where the actors on stage literally change their facial features over and over and over again. Seriously: it's like they're saying...Let me move this eye over here... and what if my nose was all squashed and flat like this...and, oh, let's take this hairy-looking thing and and turn it from a beard into a cool haircut. The audience even gets into the act: there's another sequence where one of the performers lets two different theatre-goers have at her blank black box of a face, encouraging them to add features to it with some masking tape.
Even cooler, though, are the transformations that happen in our minds' eyes. When a giant boulder rolls onto the stage and then turns out to be as malleable as putty (thanks to the one or more performers hidden inside), it is the audience who supply the images of faces and other things that the round edifice "becomes." And when a robotic-looking fellow appears, seemingly made out of two giant slinkies grafted one on top of the other, we see arms and legs and other human attributes (and assign human-type emotions and actions as well!) while this odd and weirdly lovable critter cavorts on stage.
My favorite creation is an entity made out of a single enormous slinky. Watch him flip around on a platform on stage; watch, especially, as he plays a game of ball with the audience, involving a giant blue balloon that he always catches.
Imaginations are stretched every which way, by everyone in the theatre. Mummenschanz is, as the souvenir program avers, about the kind of child's play where "kids...turn stones, straws, and feathers into instant ideal playmates."
The show engaged the audience I was part of—lots of giggles and chuckles mixed in with oohs and aahs as the effects escalated. At 70 minutes or so, the show is exactly long enough—more of this would definitely have been too much.
Especially impressive is the fact that the core members of the troupe, Swiss artists Bernie Schurch and Floriana Frasetto, have been doing their thing for nearly 40 years now, honing and revisiting a craft they have shown literally all over the world (they had a long hit run on Broadway back in the late '70s). For this production they are joined by Italian actors Pietro Montandon and Raffaela Mattioli, along with their technical director (from Austria), Jan Maria Lukas. What hard-working, remarkable creative folk these are! And what a delightful treat they are bringing to New York audiences this winter!