Review: Mummenschanz Creates Its Own World That Draws the Audience In
By Don Adkins, Managing Editor, July 11, 2018
Mummenschanz, often referred to as “The Musicians of Silence,” has returned to New York City for the first time in four years. Since its founding in Paris over forty years ago (1972), the troupe has toured extensively in both Europe and America, including a much celebrated three-year run on Broadway in the late 70s. In their current show, you and me, the five-member troupe present some of their most iconic skits and tableaus, along with some newer material at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. If you’ve never seen Mummenschanz before, then it may be somewhat difficult to describe what exactly it is. It’s basically a visual art form performing without background music or even sounds, except for the occasional buzzing fly, plucked violins, or drumming on a large trunk, but it is entertaining and draws the audience into its magical world.
Over the course of the 80 minute show, the various creatures and shapes morph and change before our eyes in some of the most astonishing ways. Starting out with two large “hands” that seem to speak through their clear motions, gestures and interactions, the melange of shapes brought to life seemed endless from tubes that resembled worms to large slinky-type tubes that took on a periscope personae sending a large balloon flying into the house for a bit of audience participation. There were the occasional objects and/or fabrics that through the use of motion and light seemed to magically fly across the stage. But almost always, the objects seemed to inhabit elements of humanity, making them quite relatable to the audience (which at the performance I attended was comprised of a large percentage of youngsters who were rather vocal during this “silent” presentation).
The performers, headed by co-founder Floriana Frassetto, are part mime artists, dancers and acrobat/gymnists, and literally use their whole bodies to bring the objects and shapes to life with the often full-body soft-sculpture appendages. They are all very strong performers, both artistically and through their body strength and control. Since much of the performance is intertwined with audience reaction, they are adept improvisors, knowing how to engage in their silent conversations very well. Also of note, the program indicates that all the performers are Swiss nationals who work together as one to breathe inner life into the various creatures. This is consistent with the universality of the presentation, as it is not focused on one specific group’s enjoyment, it speaks to all.
While the show is entertaining, due to the fact that it presents vignette after vignette lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, there is no overall through-line or arc, so it ends up coming off a bit random and somewhat unsatisfying. Ms. Frassetto was quoted as saying “When we return to New York, we always feel like we are coming home. The ‘stories’ we tell are unique in that they have no sound or music and we hope that our show will awaken the little child in everyone.” They are successful in their mission; now if only some of the parents can help their children understand proper theater etiquette and keep the performance from feeling like we’ve all stepped into an elementary school’s auditorium.
you and me presented by Mummenschanz at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College (524 West 59th Street) through July 22, 2018. Created by Floriana Frassetto in collaboration with Tina Kronis and Richard Alger. Floriana Frassetto, artistic director; Eric Sauge, technical director.
Performers: Christa Lee-Anne Barrett, Kevin Blaser, Floriana Frassetto, Sara Francesca Hermann, and Oliver Pfulg.