Friday, July 10, 2009

Speedmouse

GRADE: A-

Written and directed by David Collins and Shane Dundas. The Joyce Theater. (CLOSED)

Critics enjoy the zany antics--a combination of dance, mine, puppetry, and slapstick--of the Umbilical Brothers. A few critics eventually grow tired of the shtick, but for the most part, the evening is deemed to be a good time. Backstage reposted its review of the 2006 run, which was essentially the same show, but marketed for children. That review is included here.


Time Out New York A
(Adam Feldman) Shane Dundas works the mike, creating a varied soundscape to accompany the zanier physical antics of David Collins as they wend through a series of riffs—on Olympic decathlon sports, Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodily noises and alien dinosaurs, among many others—on a stage whose only decor consists of a single green panel. But the performers’ substantial imaginations, charm and pantomime skills do the work of a dozen set dressers. I regret to say that this is the first Umbilical Brothers show I have ever seen; I missed both 1999’s Thwak! and an earlier version of Speedmouse that played the New Victory in 2006. I assumed, frankly, that the Australian entertainers’ shtick would not be my cup of tea—but now I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t drink them up with pleasure.

Associated Press A
(Jennifer Farrar) The humor is often adolescent and silly, yet the adult audience buys into all the madness, gasping in fear for the safety of that invisible toddler and even passing an invisible tube backward over their heads. Classic mime routines are satirized, with Collins trapped in an invisible box, walking against the wind, and going down nonexistent stairs. In a poke at our dependence on technology, the pair are presented as battery-operated, and under the control of a (missing) remote capable of freezing them in position. Collins is often the victim of mysterious pranks, becoming trapped on a skyscraper ledge and then locked in a cavernous, frightening basement. The duo is aided by clever sound effects, many of which they skillfully provide themselves.

Backstage A
(Lisa Jo Sagolla) The show is undeniably hilarious, however, as it thumbs its nose at everything from digital technology and Arnold Schwarzenegger to lazy stagehands, Olympic competition, underwater ballets, and any and all forms of physical theatre. Particularly amusing is a scene in which Dundas portrays a pretentious German lecturer sternly extolling the greatness of the European mime tradition, while Collins—in clich├ęd Marcel Marceau fashion—demonstrates such pantomime classics as The Wall, Walking Against the Wind, and Pulling on a Rope. Though children in the audience certainly seemed to enjoy the show, one suspects it was largely the funny voices, oddball sound effects, and silly actions that they found entertaining. Much of the real humor in Speedmouse is topical and depends upon an understanding of parody combined with an adult level of general knowledge.

TheaterMania B
(Dan Bacalzo) Some of the Brothers' routines are more successful than others. One of the highlights is a series of short scenes that follow Collins as he makes his way through a number of hostile environments. There's also a surreal yet fascinating episode in which the audience "watches" an invisible child perform traditional mime acts. On the downside, there's an extended sequence devoted to the middle finger that quickly grows tiresome, as do a few of the sports that Collins mimes his way through -- particularly the javelin throw. Still, the duller sequences are spread out over the course of the performance, and there's enough quality material to make the evening worthwhile. After the actors take their bows, there's also an absolutely delightful, tightly paced encore (with puppets!) that ends the evening on a fun note.

The New York Times B-
(Jason Zinoman) In their theatrical lark “Speedmouse” the affable Australian doofuses known as the Umbilical Brothers — whose comedy double act includes snippets of dance, puppetry, clowning and the playground gags of adolescents on a sugar rush — practice a chaotic brand of unadulterated silliness. But even while they dart around the unadorned stage, stopping, starting, rewinding and occasionally breaking down, requiring a battery change (in mime of course), the longtime performers maintain a confident chemistry that reveals itself most impressively in the way that one actor provides sound effects for the movements of the other... These sketches are loosely tied together, and while the casualness of the presentation is part of the duo’s appeal, the 90-minute show starts to feel a bit baggy by the end of the first hour. At their best the Umbilical Brothers can turn a puppet show or an impression of a dinosaur into a virtuoso work of physical lunacy. Other times, getting by on charm and old tricks, they veer madly toward anarchy but never get there.

TONY A 13; AP A 13; Backstage A 13; TheaterMania B 10; The New York Times B- 9; TOTAL: 58/5 = 11.6 (A-)

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