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These reviews by Simon Saltzman were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on August 11, 1999. All rights reserved.
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
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
$25 to $45. 212-307-4100.
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,
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
$25. To August 29.
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