According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

FRINGE 2006 (Encore): Billy the Mime

When the highbrow art of mime meets the lowbrow art of shock comedy, you'll cringe and you'll titter. But that's all Billy the Mime brings to the table, and it's a threadbare meal.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Pantomime is the closest thing to a universal language. At the essence of this art, the human body can bring out, through exaggeration, the invisible truths of the spirit. At its most commercial, which is what Billy the Mime strives for, it can bring out, through exaggeration, the societal flaws of a culture. In a series of five-minute-long acts, Billy (the Mime) covers the current (“A Day Called 9/11”), the historical (“World War II”), and the obscure (“A Night in San Francisco: 1979”). Most of these are recognizable, even to a 22-year-old anti-culturist like me.

You can’t call Billy’s material tasteless, though it prides itself on the same shock value as South Park (it’s no surprise that both appeared in the crass documentary The Aristocrats). It’s as hard not to laugh at the parodies of Anne Frank or a priest and altar boy as it is not to be offended by them. Cringe or not, it’s an innovative adaptation of high-profile issues.

Social mores simply can’t hide from a good mime. In “A Romance,” Billy the Mime uses his two hands as puppets that first fight, then start to seduce each other, then—after applying a latex glove—start to fuck. Granted, it’s not very subtle, but neither is our culture, and that’s his material. Besides, the baser the subject matter, the more obvious it is to the audience, which is why bulimia is so recognizable (even if Karen Carpenter is not). “The Abortion,” in which Billy plays the patient, doctor, and fetus, manages to say so much more on the subject than the millions of words op-ed writers have expended on the subject.

Content aside, the mime isn't pure: music accompanies each scene and a few use props, but desperate times call for desperate measures and Billy uses the innocence of clowning to make the public writhe uncomfortably, even as they laugh. One can’t look away (without missing the act), and with nothing but subtext, the mind is forced to draw its own conclusions. This does lead to a lot of downtime between numbers, and a lot of repetition within them. For a seventy-minute show, a great deal of it rests on the physical control of Billy, something that, due to the political content, we don’t actually see all that much of.

In the end, Billy the Mime is an entertaining diversion, but it’s lacking a substantive force to affect the audience. And maybe that’s all clowning is—but pantomime is one of the oldest arts out there, and it ought to do more than make us occasionally giggle.

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