A critic's dilemma: How can I describe the details of Fool Moon without sending you screaming into the hills? Mentioning, for example, that it's a show featuring two silent clowns will probably raise a few warning flags. In a recent interview on KUOW's Weekday, the show's co-creators, Bill Irwin and David Shiner, were asked how they would describe their performance by host Marcie Sillman. While they hemmed and hawed at her suggestions of "clowning," "physical theater," and "comedy," at the word "mime" they both began protesting so vehemently you could almost hear their heads shake.
presented by Seattle Repertory Theater, 443-2222
through November 1
It's easy to understand their reticence. Mime has got a bad rap—partially deserved—of white-faced na靈 opening invisible doors, smelling invisible roses, and floating off on invisible balloons. I hate to break it to you, but all of these things surface, in one form or another, in Fool Moon, even though the umbrella that carries David Shiner away is visible, and the rose he offers to his date is real.
What doesn't smell of mime in Fool Moon looks suspiciously like clowning, including silly hats, the big cartoon mallet Bill Irwin hefts, and a dance number that becomes a pitched battle of slapstick violence. The pair even goes so far as to pull "volunteers" from out of the audience, dress them up in silly costumes, and make fun of them.
Are your teeth on edge yet?
Well, relax. Because in the hands, feet, faces, and elastic frames of Msrs. Irwin and Shiner, you are completely safe. It's hard to explain just how they do it: Maybe it's the down-home hollerin' of their back-up band the Red Clay Ramblers (whose repertoire includes bluegrass, folk, and a red-hot white gospel rendition of "Dem Bones"). Or the rages Shiner leaps into whenever he's crossed: My favorite is an elaborate mime of "What, are you on drugs?" which includes smoking reefer, popping some pills, shooting up, and then staggering about in cross-eyed idiocy. Or maybe it's the gentle perplexity that falls across Irwin's face when a spaghetti strand turns infinite or a black hole begins operation at the edge of stage right. But whatever the specific elements, the result is of consummate showmanship, where the battle of Man against the Universe is played for laughs.
It's appropriate that a paper moon that Irwin dangles in the first half returns in the second as a glorious sky-borne chariot, because that's what this show does: mysteriously transforms the worn props of comedy into something rare, rich, and strange.