This isn't the punchline to a joke. We really saw Mummenschanz. The clay faces, the toilet-paper heads and anthropomorphic shapes straight out of those ubiquitous TV ads from the '70s and '80s of my youth. When I told my 8-year-old daughter we were going to see Mummenschanz, I thought I should prepare her. I explained it was mimes with masks no talking and no music. ''I like mimes,'' she said enthusiastically. ''They pretend like they're walking down stairs when there are no stairs.'' Kids they like mimes.
Mummenschanz, founded in Paris in 1972 by Andres Bossard, Floriana Frassetto and Bernie Schürch, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. A straight mime show in this post-Blue Man world? Is that even possible? I wondered if it would be dated or timeless.
Two giant walking hands start the show by opening the curtain on stage, and the audience responds immediately by laughing and coaxing them along. The skits themselves come surprisingly fast and furious there were 28, by my count and it plays like a greatest-hits from those old ads: a green Pac-Man-like pea, blockheads, slinky creatures, garbage-bag people, a suitcase head. My daughter was quiet during most of the show. When the human insect skittered across the stage, she said, ''This show is so funny.'' The clay-face piece that Mummenschanz made famous on the first season of The Muppet Show is one of the longest bits, and it's quite a sight to see in person. The frenetic face-off has the two performers build into a rapid-fire presto-chango of about a dozen clay-faced creatures until they literally smash into each other. It's really exciting even if you already know what's going to happen.
In the middle of that segment, my daughter said, ''It's really good.'' Her biggest takeaway was what she called ''the giant potato,'' which is pretty much a giant inflatable potato morphing into face-like shapes and rolling around the stage. I was especially fond of the tap-dancing Christmas trees. On our way home we tried to figure out exactly how the performers did it.
I like to think my daughter received a stealth tutorial in modern art, from the Picasso-like masks to the Kandinsky-esque costumes come to life. The sound from the movements on stage and the audience reactions heightened the experience in the silent theater and kept us on our best behavior.
Mummenschanz is like an 8-bit videogame in today's Xbox world of in-your-face performance art, all primary colors and basic geometric shapes. The show is not as flashy as Cirque du Soleil, quieter than Blue Man, and less athletic than Pilobolus; but, like Pac-Man, Mummenschanz is a classic. A
Mummenschanz 40 Years is in New York until Jan. 6, 2013, followed by a 10-week national tour. You can buy tickets at mummenschanznyc.com
Okay For Kids?
Families will enjoy the energetic skits and audience participation during this 80 minute show. The Mummenschanz mimes are silent and the room occasionally gets dark. Very little ones might not realize they are watching people in costumes. (Ages 4-6)