MUMMENSCHANZ still morphing after all these years

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On its 40th anniversary tour, it's fitting that MUMMENSCHANZ play in Greenwich Village, the longtime epicenter of Manhattan's alternative culture.

The four-person Swiss troupe is not quite dance, not quite mime, but even after all these years, somehow cutting edge enough to appeal to hipsters, children (more on appropriate theater behavior to come) and those who had clearly seen MUMMENSCHANZ before. The show opened Wednesday, (Dec. 12) at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and plays through Jan. 6.

MUMMENSCHANZ is all about optics, not necessarily optical illusions, but about what we see from shapes. The four work mostly as shapes, which sounds odd, but is oddly mesmerizing - at least for the first hour. A two-hour show is a whole lot of MUMMENSCHANZ.


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They work silently, on a bare stage, the only prop a small ramp and a ledge for some of the numbers. For the most part, each scene moves quickly. The performers are usually inside materials - fabulous fabrics that must have a fan system inside to make them billow. Or they are inside what looks like pipes or inside what appear to be giant cushions.

They say nothing. Ever.

There is no music.

The action is all in the shapes. And what makes it compelling is that even without words, even without music, the audience relates to the shapes, and roots for certain shapes. The performers morph from one shape to another.

There is a lot of charm, a bit of acrobats and a vast amount of silliness. And all of those qualities make it an appropriate theatrical experience for children. What is inappropriate, however, is letting your child talk throughout a production, or loudly eat chips. No one finds 
your children as endearing as you do, and I say this as the mother of two.

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When the children were awestruck by what was going on stage that was quite wonderful, and there was much to be awestruck about. Somehow a giant pipe or a headless Michelin man or legs, outlined in fluorescent tubing, floating through space are all quite fun.

During the performance, we never see the performers' faces. All wear black jumpsuits and their heads are always covered. Some numbers are spellbinding. A tad long yet oddly compelling number had two men in ever-changing masks. They manipulated their own masks or each other's and during the course of the number were different animals, and a bull charging a matador.

If it sounds a bit surreal, that would be right. It would be hard to imagine that Salvador Dali did not influence the founders of MUMMENSCHANZ. And despite the show feeling a little long there is something quite wonderful about abstract performance art, especially when the same troupe has been at it for 40 years.
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