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Alien forms and exotic masks highlight Mummenschanz performance


At the Colonial Theatre.

April 17-29.


MUMMENSCHANZ is the most delightful, creative, and exciting entertainment I have seen in a long time. It is also extremely difficult to describe. The Swiss group could be called "mimes," although that word falls far short of what they do. True, the actors never speak during the performance, but the emotional power that they express is far beyond that of run-of-the-mill mimes. In addition, their exotic costumes are so convincing that it takes some time before one realizes that there must be people inside.

One of the first scenes involved "the blob," a reddish-brown ball that was attempting to get onto a higher portion of the stage. Almost magically, it was able to tell us that it had to get onto that platform, no matter how difficult that would be. When the blob failed, much of the audience shared its tension. When it finally reached its goal, and began jumping in place, the audience laughed and applauded, sharing the blob's success.

It was this sort of silent, emotionally charged dialogue that made Mummenschanz so special. No matter how outrageous or strange the creatures appeared, there was always a humanness to them that made it possible to communicate through the silence.

The actors had a wonderful sense of humor, which added much to the show. A life-sized hand, a six-foot-long centipede, and a person with a black box instead of a head made fun of the audience, patting bald people on the head and scolding others for returning late from the intermission.

The show was divided into two acts of one hour each. The first was a bit more exotic than the second, with a jellyfish, a "Pac Man with a tongue" (for lack of a better description), and many other weird creatures moving around the stage and performing various acts. The audience felt like it was observing an alien zoo during most of this, although in many ways, it was much easier to identify with the animals in this zoo than those on this planet.

During the first half, the Mummenschanz actors proved their flexibility and physical agility. Fitting into these costumes seems hard enough; moving around and communicating sophisticated emotions would appear almost impossible! One creature during the first act had six identical boxes on each of its "appendages" (arms, legs, head, tail). The audience was unable to determine which way the actor was sitting inside the costume, and whether the boxes closest to the audience held his hands or his feet.

The second half of the show was a bit different from the first, in that the actors donned masks, rather than costumes, to tell their respective stories. In each scene, they were thus restricted to a single mode of facial communication.

For instance, one couple communicated using toilet paper. To speak, they unrolled their "mouths"; to listen, they unrolled their "ears." In another scene, the actors wrote on pads of paper attached to their faces to display eye and mouth movement and expression. The actors would draw mouths and eyes according to how they were feeling, and would remove pages to display a new emotion.

The only problem with the entire evening was the small size of the audience. Nearly half of the seats were empty, giving the impression that Mummenschanz is an unknown group with a small following. The impressive, unique performance that we were treated to on Thursday was beyond compare, and does not deserve a single empty seat. If you are able to see Mummenschanz before they leave Boston, by all means go see them. You will be rewarded beyond your wildest imagination.