Miming His Own Business
Marcel Marceau at the Colonial Theater through March 10
DID YOU EVER turn off the sound on the television and notice how silly all the actors look?
Those TV actors, with their bland gesticulations and hammy facial expressions, could certainly take a lesson or two from Marcel Marceau, the French pantomimist, the most famous living mine, if not the greatest.
Marceauu's notoriety arises not only from his "Style" exercises, in which he depicts a variety of professions and predicaments, but also form hie "Bip" pantomimes. The "Bip" character, whom Marceau created at the beginning of his career, is a clown whose hallmarks are his battered, beflowered opera hat and his penchant for misadventures. In Marceau's stint at the Colonial, he spends the first half of the program engaging in several style pantomimes, and the second half portraying Bip and his further.
Marceau plays both types of role with minimal theatrical trappings: his only accessories are music, which includes both recognizable classical pieces and simple recordings of nose; and lights, which either spotlight his antics or swirl around him to create confusion. In most of the skits, however, Marceau works solo on a blackened stage, clad in white ballet shoes, bodysuit and vest with a facefull of chalk.
In one scene, entitled "Pickpocket's Nightmare," Marceau employs two black panels and black box. These props allow him to perform a marvellous illusion: while Marceau stands at one end of the panels, heartaches behind them, his hand arms appearing in physically impossible places: above the screens, across the length of the screens, and on either side of them. However, the pleasing effect of this seemingly magical trick disappears when two extra pairs of hands appear simultaneously with Marceau, showing the audience that even the great silent communicator needs a little help now and then.
ANOTHER MAJOR disappointment also mars the performance. At the start of the show, a pink-clad troubadour emerges from a fanfare and a see of light. He holds up a scroll-like banner, announcing the name of the next skit. The house lights blacken, and seconds later Marceau, dressed in his far less elaborate white costume, poses in readiness on the exact spot that the troubadour held. How does he make this miraculous switcheroo? The audience finds out at intermission, when the Marceau look-alike troubadour comes out to take a bow with his boss.
Marceau's program varies nightly: he selects his program from a possible 30 style scenes and a possible 23 Bip scenes, and does about six of each. All Marceau's "greatest hits" are included on the list, like "The Cage," "Walking Against the Wind," "The Mask Maker," and "Youth, Maturity. Old Age and Death."
Although some of Marceau's less famous selections can be confusing, his classics may make the show worthwhile. "The Mask Maker" is a delight: Marceau first carves masks, then tries two of them on alternately, frantically switching his demeanor from one of vapid joy to one of scowling horror. The joy mask gets stuck on his head. Another successful number is "The Angel," in which Marceau portrays an angel who periodically visits earth. Just when he is in the throes of embrace or of drink, heavenly music and light surround him to remind him to behave properly.
Where the show fails, however, it bores. In the promisingly-titled "The Creation of the World." Marceau coordinates hand motions with music in what must be an appalling effort; but the significance and meaning of the gestures get lost. He flutters, jiggles, shakes, undulates and climbs--but why? His face conveys amazement, wonder, triumph, haughtiness in a way that is amusing but confusing. During these skits, a viewer's mind can't help but stray to the question of how much Marceau must pay his doubtlessly-busy masseur.
For modern audiences, who are accustomed to loud musicals and the chatty entertainment of TV and radio, sitting in a theater for two hours in which virtually the only sounds come from the audience's chuckles can be almost eerie. But Marceau's and Bip's-- anties, while subdued, provide a calm evening devoid of commercial interruption.