Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Legs and All

When is a box not a box? The moment you decide it's not. Problem is, while it was easy to imagine our way into other worlds as a child, at some point, we outgrew our refrigerator-box spaceships and saw only the utility of a packaging crate. So it's a pleasure to report that Legs and All, a comedic bit of imagineering by Summer Shapiro and Peter Musante, is rooted in the pleasures of the past, and successfully spreads the joy of whimsy throughout the theater, much as the clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner did way back in 1993's Fool Moon (or, more recently, like Lorenzo Pisioni in his autobiographical Humor Abuse). The result is black-box theater at its finest, for the exquisite physical comedy from this pair refuses to acknowledge their set as a black box--even the actual box they use becomes so much more.

Subtitled "a magical look at the mundane," Legs and All begins with a firm fusing of the two. A recorded voice speaks in a sort of French gibberish language as our clownish heroes pop up and spin around within the confines of a tiny box, summoning up the elasticity of The Triplets of Belleville (particularly in their connection to Brandi Brandes's music). Then, as they freeze, Rico Rosseti's lights cleverly shift from angle to angle, showing off all the different angles and dimensions available to the show. Rules are simultaneously being established and broken, and as the lights dim on the prelude, the audience is filled with an eager anticipation for the "anything" that may follow.

At first, the two are solo performers: Musante attempts to steal a bright orange ball that has been left unattended, drawing more and more attention to his incredibly precise attempts to be subtle, and Shapiro, lurking within the box, seems to be two discrete entities--her ravenous head, which slowly pounces on unsuspecting crackers, and her spidery hands, which keep catching her by surprise. There is a pleasure taken in every moment, every gesture, and the two are expertly trained enough to sincerely broadcast their intents in the slightest of facial twitches, so much so that when a cracker falls on the floor, Shapiro's eyes flicker from sadness to anger to resolve all in a few seconds, and all without a scrap of dialogue. Surprising, too: Shaprio cannot simply reach down to grab the cracker--having established that these are to be picked up with her mouth, she winds up in a hand-stand atop the box, slowly lowering herself face-first toward the food.

These moments are enrapturing; if they're later exposed as bagatelles, it is only on account of how much higher the two elevate their craft in the ensuing scenes, in which Musante--attracted to the fey Shaprio--is sucked through the box and into her world. Now dimensions really do shift: first, just the box (which is now, upside-down, a table), then the actors themselves, contorting their bodies so as to make the side of the box appear to be the top of it. It's here, too, that the mundane becomes magical: napkins dirty one's face instead of cleaning it, and objects stick in mid-air.

All of this leads to the climactic final act, in which Shapiro follows Musante back out of the box and into the "real" world--tentatively, at first, afraid to step on the ground, then exuberantly, with the two whooping in increasingly higher pitches about how everything's OK. There's the downbeat, as shyness and insecurity sets in, but also the happy ending, with the two reminding us that everything is simply a matter of perspective, imagination, and the combination of the two: perspicacity. Legs and All is the sort of show that leads one to gush, a relentlessly charming, overwhelmingly beautiful piece of art.

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