nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
September 19, 2008
I wasn't sure what to expect Thursday night at the Union Square Theater, as I tried to imagine a band of Koreans mime and dance their way out of jail. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by Break Out, one of the most energetic shows to hit this town since Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. Making its North American debut, Break Out is an extreme dance comedy about a prison break, created by Korea's SevenSense Inc. Since its 2006 premier in Korea, Break Out has played in London, India, Malaysia, Bangkok, Laos, and at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Combining elements of beat boxing, break dancing, gymnastics, hip-hop, and slapstick comedy, Break Out surpasses the typical theatergoing experience with mind-blowing choreography and stellar moves that put the American reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance to shame.
Although the plot is a bit trite, as are some extraneous elements such as a perplexing introductory slide show that projects random moments in history, Break Out showcases incredible talent from each of its players. The beauty of this show is watching how the performers rely solely on movement and gesture to communicate and tell their story (as spineless as it may be). And while the ongoing Tom and Jerry cat and mouse chase between the guards and jailers may make one dizzy, it's a wonder that the cast almost never stops moving.
In addition to the wonderful ensemble work, each performer boasts his or her own signature move, such as Yong-Nam Song (Joker) who slides across the stage on his head and Jae-Hong Park (Gundog) whose variations of the "flare" (a break-dance power move taken from gymnastics in which the breaker suspends and swings his or her legs around a stationary torso) took me back to Beijing. "SWAT team" member Seong-Jun Park, who ranks in the top five of Korea's best beat-boxers, has an impressive handle on the mic and revs up the audience each time he takes the stage.
There are a few memorable moments, such as the brilliant use of puppetry to enact the prisoners tunneling out of jail, which looks like a hilarious spoofing of The Shawshank Redemption. The show briefly deviates with a series of slapstick vignettes in which the prisoners mock a group of nuns, played charmingly by Ji-Hee Jang, Jin-Hee Kim, and Yoon-Hui Choi. All the prisoners want to do is get to the beach, a seemingly simple objective unless you consider Fellini's La Dolce Vita or Truffaut's 400 Blows, two cinematic masterpieces whose troubled characters find themselves running towards the sea for salvation. Of course that's deeper than this show would ever dream to delve, but out of this seaside longing emerges a sense of universality from a piece that's not so universal. Though the overall structure is at times chaotic, the energy never dies down, and the dancing and music continue well into the curtain call (with some bonus free-styling), reminding us just how much fun the theatre can be.