IBDB HOME PAGE
Return to Production

Mummenschanz: "The New Show" (06/24/1986 - 10/26/1986)


 

New York Daily News: "These mimes have plenty to say"

“Mummenschanz: The New Show” opened originally at the Off-Broadway Joyce Theatre April 24, 1986. It transferred to the Helen Hayes the week of June 23.

The last time I saw Mummenschanz I admired their technique but felt their creativity ran thin about halfway through the show. That was nine years ago and here they are back at the Joyce Theater. Either they have grown in the interim or I have become more receptive. Probably some of both, with the latter stemming from the former.

Some of their most fascinating work is done on a blackened stage with the Schanzers wearing black leotards that render them invisible. Take the opening. First, half an illuminated leg shakes itself through the bottom of the curtain. Then two huge illuminated hands appear and part the curtain to reveal…more darkness. What follows is a kaleidoscope fantasia of fluidly changing, almost psychedelic, shapes and colors wedded to a sly humor that reaches both young and old.

The Schanzers, cleverly hidden (or revealed) by Beverly Emmons’ lighting, do not offer mere eye pleasers, however. Many of their sketches comment on human relationships in a manner no way pretentious or obvious. Coquettish romance is mined for chuckles. The battle of the sexes is suggested. Our attitudes toward the animal kingdom are alluded to. At one point, the performers gnarl themselves into a clam and shell. Suddenly, our old friend the Big Hand appears with a giant chopstick and the clam is jocularly threatened. Subtlety is all. Never a word is spoken yet the story is clear.

It’s true that at some moments during Mummenschanz’s performance the ennui of yesteryear returned; but any show that can keep kids from exploring the aisles and adults in their seats for an hour and a half has a lot going for it.


New York Daily News
04/25/1986

New York Post: "Soulless 'Mummenschanz'"

“Mummenschanz: The New Show” opened originally at the Off-Broadway Joyce Theatre April 24, 1986. It transferred to the Helen Hayes the week of June 23.

How do you say “very clever” in 17 ways without the use of words?

Somehow this seems to be the appropriate critical response to the famous Swiss mine company Mummenschanz which has returned to New York for a season at the Joyce Theater (Eighth Av. at 19th St.) after a prolonged absence.

The program is called, simply, Mummenschanz, The New Show, and it is indeed just that. The old program, with its mimed, anthropomorphic insects and endless rolls of toilet paper, has been discarded, and the new production is, if anything, slicker and even smoother than before.

The three protean mimes – you never see their faces – who make up the performing side of the troupe (Andres Bossard, Floriana Frasetto and Bernie Schurch) have devised the new show in two parts, one of which could well be called “Hands,” and the other “Heads.”

The whole evening is astonishingly adroit, and also astonishingly heartless. It takes cleverness to almost indecent extremes.

It is, admittedly, the cleverness of simplicity. The clowning is based on props, funny costumes, and the extraordinary use of masks and objects as varied as briefcases, balloons and what look like giant pipe-cleaners.

With these basic stage appurtenances, the three mimes fill their blank stage with a zoo of monsters and people, giants and clowns.

Children clearly love it, joyfully anticipating every corny move, thrilling to every odd gesture.

All of it is clever, and some of it genuinely theatrical.

Some of the lighting techniques may well have been borrowed from the celebrated Black Theater of Prague, and even the final Coup de Theater, a grotesquely ballooning monster threatening to engulf the audience, seems to be inspired by Gerald Arpino’s ballet The Clowns for Joffrey.

Yet there is originality here, as well as cleverness. Unfortunately after the first five minutes or so, for me its cleverness palled, its tricks dulled, and its smug happiness annoyed.

All the same children love it, and Mummenschanz may be able to reach the child in many adults. Unfortunately, not the child in this adult.


New York Post
05/02/1986

New York Times: "'Mummenschanz, New Show'"

“Mummenschanz: The New Show” opened originally at the Off-Broadway Joyce Theatre April 24, 1986. It transferred to the Helen Hayes the week of June 23.

As the saying goes, what do you do for an encore? Mummenschanz, the mime trio from Switzerland that enchanted viewers with its first production in the 1970's, has finally come up with an answer in the form of its latest fun-filled fantasia.

Entitled simply ''Mummenschanz, The New Show,'' the current spectacle at the Joyce Theater banks on the same delightful originality that made the old show so inimitable even for its own creators - to the point that a decade passed before they could come up with a second viable program.

Nonetheless, by the time Andres Bossard, Floriana Frassetto and Bernie Schurch took their bows Wednesday night at the preview beginning their new run through May 25 (the show opened last night), it was obvious they had expanded upon their initial ideas and found a new twist. Mummenschanz has turned madness into method - and done it wonderfully.

The Mummenschanz style is one of child's play, and this instinctual veneer can, at its deepest, be transformed by the group into philosophical rumination. The three performers are still masked but instead of usually showing us a human or animal figure under a geometric head as before, they now tend to be encased entirely in abstract forms or to make their bodies invisible while they play with light and darkness.

This time around, their basic theme concentrates on headlessness - creatures without a head or who acquire and lose one. No matter how much it tries, Mummenschanz cannot help but comment on the human condition.

And so, in the most profound moments, we see a figure that is deprived of a head suddenly sink down into the literal darkness of despair. Hope is lost in this instant. Moreover, the basic costume of the three performers in the second part of the two-act program is a padded bodysuit that conceals their real heads, giving them only shoulders and a stump of a neck. Atop this animated platform, various heads are occasionally attached - a suitcase whose homemade expressiveness comes from ordinary locks snapped open like eyes or a handle used as a nose. There are hilarious half-balloon heads that change profile according to the way the wind blows - fickleness made live.

There are also huge air-filled bags - pillows in the pillow fight to end all pillow fights. Headless, too, they attack each other in the best martial-arts fashion. When a balloon is suggested as head to some of these forms, its impermanence is obvious. Never ensconced, these heads float off.

With so many figures losing their heads, the world Mummenschanz presents here is one that is incomplete, suggesting transience as a human state. Something is missing -a soul, a mind.

The punch line, appropriately, comes at the very end. A huge pillowlike sack - an oversized garbage bag - starts suddenly to expand. Very soon it acquires a face. And as this head unbelievably blows up to mammoth proportions and rises to proscenium height, filling the entire stage after it has gobbled up the suitcase figure, it advances threateningly toward the audience.

The point is witty and even moral in its irony. Even after so much headlessness, too much of a head is not necessarily a good thing. Mummenschanz never preaches. Yet the lesson here is that excess, big head or no head, is never a substitute for the golden mean.

These philosophical points, for that is what they are, are never presented with a heavy hand. Hands, in fact, introduce the show, as two figures topped with huge hands draw the curtains back. The same hands will carry giant crayons or, holding chopsticks, pick up an egg roll - a Mummenschanz member encased in a fake pancake. Or there is the moment when a finger pokes a hole in a jigsaw puzzle constructed by invisible performers: the spoilsport as metaphor.

Not everything in this show has the absolute pungency and clarity of the original Mummenschanz program. Everyday objects and abstract forms are still attached to bodies in many instances, and familiar courtships and rivalries still occur. But occasionally the larger biomorphic forms on view act up and don't come to the point.

Moving inside sacks and shapes, in fact, is not purely a Mummenschanz preserve. Even less like mimes than previously, they are now closer to choreographers like Alwin Nikolais - the prop becomes the extension of the human body in each case. The message comes from the movement.

Within this general category, Mummenschanz is still in a class by itself and it has some knockouts to prove it. Mr. Bossard, as an octopus, flailing and rolling, is superb. An amazing ribbon dance features a strip scribbling through the darkness, etching out profiles.

Beverly Emmons, the distinguished American lighting designer and two stage ''assistants,'' Lee Dassler and Walter Flohr, contribute to the merriment for all ages.


New York Times
04/25/1986

  Back to Top