BWW Review: MUMMENSCHANZ 40TH ANNIVERSARY
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by Nancy Grossman
Mummenschanz 40th Anniversary
Featuring: Floriana Frassetto, Philipp Egli, Raffaella Mattioli, Pietro Montandon
Performances through December 9 presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at Citi Shubert Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 866-348-9738 or www.celebrityseries.org
Celebrity Series of Boston presents Switzerland-based theater company Mummenschanz with its 40th Anniversary touring show at the Citi Shubert Theatre, marking the sixth time the international troupe has been featured as part of the diverse programming offered by the Series. Described as theater of physical movement, the two-hour program consists of nearly thirty sketches that are performed by four black-clad artists whose success is measured by how well they manage to blend into the background, letting their alter egos take center stage.
It is the amazing parade of alter ego characters that causes the audience to sit mesmerized and wide-eyed as they watch a mélange of objects roll, twist, flop, and leap around the stage wordlessly. There is neither dialogue nor music, but the actors respond to the rhythm of the audience’s laughter, ooh’s, and aah’s, keeping the show fresh and in the moment. Technical Director/Lighting Designer Jan Maria Lukas works his magic to ensure that the performers remain in the dark, so to speak, giving the illusion of life to otherwise inanimate items.
Founding member Floriana Frassetto, Philipp Egli, Raffaella Mattioli, and Pietro Montandon are the fluid, albeit faceless, artists who sacrifice their identities in order to give expression to feelings of joy, love, disappointment, triumph, surprise, and perseverance, among others. They achieve this by inhabiting an array of costumes that include an amorphous blob, a four-limbed Slinky-like creature, an electric plug and receptacle, and a black and white striped octopus. Two of the more ingenious bits involve a couple wearing headgear sporting pink and blue toilet paper rolls, and two characters with modeling clay faces that the wearers transform over and over again, from human to animal to I-don’t-know-what.
Mummenschanz is not only family-friendly, but appeals to children and adults on different levels. That being said, it has the capacity to bring out the inner child for grownups, as evidenced by the devilish delight taken by a man in the front row who had the chance to interact with Frassetto when she ventured into the audience during a sketch. A couple of actual youngsters got into the spotlight as well on opening night when a giant red balloon escaped the clutches of the yellow corrugated pipe creature attempting a balancing act and they attempted to volley it back onto the stage. Even as the show engages the children, it enriches them by encouraging them to use their imaginations and figure out for themselves what that giant blob is supposed to be or how a plain white rectangle of fabric can suddenly appear to have a face and take on a personality.
Since 1972 when Swiss artists Bernie Schürch and Andres Bossard formed the company with Frassetto, Mummenschanz has secured its place in the theatrical world by sharing its non-verbal message with audiences of all ages and cultures. They have performed on six of the seven continents (Frassetto notes that traveling to Africa remains a dream) in over sixty countries, including a successful three-year run on Broadway in the late 1970s. Although it is somewhat difficult to adequately describe the nature of what they do, what they do is entertain and enchant. Part choreographed movement, part acrobatics, part performance art, Mummenschanz 40th Anniversary is all magic. Giving credit to the importance of Lukas’ contribution, Frassetto says, “We want you to see, but not more than so much.”
Photos courtesy of www.mummenschanz.com