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Flash Flashback, 9-27: Bowled Over
In Company with Marcel Marceau

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2000 Angela Jones

(The Dance Insider has been revisiting its Flash Archive. This Flash Review was first posted October 25, 2000. Marcel Marceau passed away Saturday in Paris at the age of 84. To read Paul Ben-Itzak's tribute, click here.)

After more than 50 years, you have to be good. No one could argue that Marcel Marceau is not the mime virtuoso. He has brought his art to a state of physical perfection as only a few mature dancers have. In fact, you could see just how perfected his troupe's abilities are when the performers broke out and danced the tango. Every moment was stylized, clear and distinct. Every detail of hand, finger, and eye could be seen in the picture.

During Marceau's run at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, "The Bowler Hat" is being presented October 24-29 by Marceau and company, and from October 31 to November 12 a collection of solo pieces that span his long career will be presented. "The Bowler Hat" is a mime-play based around a bowler hat that becomes stuck on the head of Jonathan Bowler (played by Marceau) and all the ridiculous events that occur in the process of his trying to rid himself of it.

I admit that I have not seen much mime nor am I familiar with its conventions. I also feel that I am very guilty of having the short attention span that plagues most American gen-Xers. The extremely slow pace of the story, and the lack of any real emotion made me keep wishing for something more to sink my teeth into. But, Marcel Marceau can give you a piece of history, and keeping that expectation in mind makes it all the more interesting. If you enjoy vaudevillian humor and slapstick, then this show is your cup of tea. Mime has the same over-the-top drama and schtick-iness of any silent movie. However, it lacks the quick wit of the Marx Brothers, so none of the jokes come off as being truly funny.

The story seemed to almost end five times, and apparently missed its climax. But only in those "extra innings" did we see the most interesting sequences when there was no plot to keep plodding through. The dream sequences in Venice, with the farandoles, and the scene where thousands of bowler hats fill the sky as Jonathan Bowler gets carried by the wind into their midst, is simultaneously surreal and humanly poignant. He has rid himself of everything and is now alone with nothing. He gives his body up to be surrounded by the thing he felt most unfortunately attached to, plagued by, and now surrounded by. It is a moment of real art, finally giving the audience room to place themselves in his silent world.

I found myself thinking that I've seen this all done before. That thought made me realize how entrenched Marceau's allegories and exercises are in our consciousness. This show is a chance to witness the origin and iconography, the primal soup, of physical communication.


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