Review: `Squonk’

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These reviews by Simon Saltzman were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 11, 1999. All rights reserved.

Off-Broadway: `Thwak’

You may not have an easy time finding the word onomatopoeia

in the dictionary — especially if you can’t spell it. You probably

won’t find the word "Thwak" in the dictionary either, although

it is easy to spell, and, of course, it’s spelled exactly the way

you would think it would be spelled if you could hear the thing it

was spelling. With that said, let it be said that there is a lot of

onomatopoeia in action in the show "Thwak," a fast, furious,

and funny family entertainment of sights, sounds, and silly behavior.

The perpetrators are "The Umbilical Brothers," Shane Dundas

and David Collins, a zany pair of native Australians who prove that

they are more than just observant fans of high-tech gadgetry and old-fashioned

tomfoolery.

Together they create a world in which classic mime and motor-mouthed

vocals hilariously collide. Best of all, Dundas and Collins are informed

by their own madcap sense of juvenile-based satire. There is too much

cartoon-like sturm und drang to go into the details of their

performance, as they appear to be in perpetual hot pursuit of or escape

from each other and other things. But suffice it to say that Dundas

makes more of the blasts while Collins is busy with the buffoonery.

Only time will tell whether Dundas and Collins will achieve the classic

status of such renowned comedy teams as Laurel and Hardy or Abbott

and Costello, but they have brought the old crash, slam, bang, comedy

routines into the high-tech era. After the show, you may ask yourself

what in the world did director Philip Wm. McKinley have to do to keep

this inventive, incorrigible, and apparently invincible pair from

self-destructing. It’s a blast from first to last. HHH

Thwak, Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, New York.

$25 to $45. 212-307-4100.

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Review: `Squonk’

Okay, so you know about "Stomp," and just read

about "Thwak." That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider

a visit to "Squonk," another theatrical experience designed

to make you wonder what could possibly be next. What comes next after

a smiling, personable accordion player innocently makes her way through

the audience and onto the stage is what the program refers to as,

"BigSmorgasbordWunderWerk."

No, it isn’t John the Baptist’s head that is revealed beneath the

silver-domed platter on the grand buffet table in an eerie setting

that could be perceived as Julia Child’s worst nightmare. But whoever’s

head it is, and whatever culinary world it suggests, it is catered

by a group of master musical and visual artists. What is set before

us in "Squonk" (or "Squonk Opera" as the Pittsburgh-based

troupe has been known during its three-year tour), resembles a progressive

meal in which the eater, literally in or out of a straightjacket,

is as much the point as the beater, on legs or on wheels.

"Squonk" is one of the more bizarre entertainments you are

like to come across in this or any other world. But in the world of

its culinary-possessed creators and conveyors — Jackie Dempsey,

Jana Losey, Steve O’Hearn, Kevin Komicki, and T. Weldon Anderson —

what’s eatable and digestible musically and visually is as much a

matter of taste as what whirs, stirs, and grinds its way through it.

"Squonk" is a veritable feast of eerie dances, fever-induced

chills, darkly comic metaphors on food and drink, the eater and the

eaten, and lots of dreamily disturbing new-wave music, all performed

by a talented group of collaboratively and collectively mesmerizing

artists and musicians. Most impressive is the use of puppetry, the

imaginative use and designs of the sort to startle even the puppet

pro Julie Taymor. There is also the intoxicating score to consider,

a counterbalanced blend of pre-historic chant, stream-of-consciousness

rap, and post-chromatic cant. Perhaps playing the tape (on sale after

the show) will allow me to hear the lyrics, which, although the slinky

Losey served them up rather delectably, were as inscrutable as they

were unintelligible. To describe this foodish opera as "stirring"

would not be overstating the obvious. HH

— Simon Saltzman

Squonk, P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue at 9 Street, 212-477-5288.

$25. To August 29.


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