Talented: yes. Creative: most of the time. Creative enough to succeed on the competitive New York stage? It's hard to have an open-run of a dance-instrument-rhythm spectacle, especially when some of your content is aimed at an older audience. It may be drowned out by its more established peers, but until then, Be is pretty cool.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
OK, so maybe New Yorkers are a little jaded. But to open up a new dance/music/performance piece less than a mile from both Stomp and Blue Man Group, you really need to have a spectacle on your hands if you expect to stay. No-one's going to dispute the talent of Mayumana company (especially that of Boaz Berman and Aka Jean Claude Thiemele), but their latest work, Be, may be in trouble trying to find the right audience.
There are clever scenes involving flippers and guitars, and there's a marvelous piece involving glow-in-the-dark balls that soar in fast succession from invisible hands to invisible hands, like meteors being juggled to percussive music in the sky (a little night music indeed). There are some great feats involving the blisteringly swift percussive ability of co-creator Berman's patty cake maneuvers. And one moment, involving some glistening water and the sound created by a glass dunking and surfacing in rapid success, is a testament to the creativity, persistence, and passion of artists out there who refuse to let the world be mundane. There's even a beatboxing/drum number that relies on audience on participation to supply a few beats (it's harder than it looks). All of these things will appeal to the mindset of younger audiences, and it will excite their imagination, too.
There are a bunch of filler scenes too, ambling numbers that have slight punchlines, like one involving an tennis match with an invisible ball that the actors provide the sound effect for. And cool as the snaky and sinuous movements of expert drummers may be, when there is a lack of variation between the numbers -- that is, the only difference being the object used as the drum -- it ceases to fascinate, and simply bewilders. There's also a perhaps too great an emphasis on borrowed staging: Be needs to exist as a wholly original work, but a neon didgeridoo calls up Blue Man, some dumpster drumming revives Stomp, and one scene with a clunky, long-necked walk of some costumed aliens reminds us of the late Slava's Snowshow.
I suspect the real problem for Be will be in the rest of its content: stimulating as the aforementioned may be to younger crowds, the play also has a wide variety of erotic dancing, including a scene straight out of the party monster scene (white fur coat and underwear, nothing else), and one of the mundane objects called upon for sound is a giant bong. What's worse is that the scenes, while interesting to watch, have no cohesion with the rest of the show. Each segment lives independent of the others, and fascinating as it may be to leap from tribal song to primal dances to modern percussion to futuristic movement, the show is really just a hodgepodge of Mayumana's ideas.
The talent isn't a question: just watch the synchronized opening scene, which involves lots of minute movements to the ticking of a clock. The content, unfortunately, is; without a running theme or gimmick, Be is out of focus and quickly forgotten, and without the charm and personality of its New York rivals. Cirque du Solei changed their marketing to do burlesque work in Vegas, and De La Guarda delivered on specialized thrills for an older New York crowd. Be exists this moment, but unfortunately, I don't see it lasting for long.
Union Square Theater (100 E. 17th Street)
Tickets (212-505-0700): $20.00-$60.00
Performances: Tuesday-Friday @ 8; Sat. @ 7 & 10; Sun. @ 3 & 7
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.