Monday, December 21, 2015

ZooZoo—Imago Theatre—SE Portland


The final Portland run of this imaginative, legendary show, which ran on Broadway in 2010, will end on January 3rd, 2016, at their space at 17 SE 8th.  It was created by Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle.  It is not to be missed!  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-231-9581.

This show, quite simply, is not to be missed!  There is no story in the traditional sense.  The skits seem unrelated and yet…there are connecting tissues.  Most of the scenes involve an outsider, a nonconformist, a rebel trying to break free of the conventions of the “normal” world in which he/she exists.  Also there is usually an outside ambience/atmosphere of sound (often, crickets or wind), music (Katie Griesar) and lights (Jeff Forbes) to enhance their environment.  And the stage is essentially bare, leaving room for one’s imagination to fill in the blanks.

But, perhaps, the most amazing thing of all, is that all these creations are masked in some way and have only one expression and yet the stories are full of emotions, humor and relationships…meaning, that as an audience, you are supplying the imagination needed to fill in the blanks.  Certainly the timing of movements is “suggesting” things but you are actually filling in the gaps (unlike C/G effects in movies that underestimate a viewer and feel they must create, in a “realistic” fashion, the imaginary world and beings.  Ray Bradbury alluded that the truest horror or magic comes from within individuals…that they can create, from their own imagination, terror and beauty much more powerful than anything you can put on screen).  Amen to that.

One must interact with this show, be a participant, not from just the outward senses, but from the perspective of the heart…a child’s heart…and imagination.  It is a journey back in time to those innocent days of giggles and discovery and fairy dust and a belief in magic with enchanted spells.  The children in the audience were totally immersed and captivated, and projected themselves whole-heartedly into that world.  As an adult, I could only visit it as a tourist.  And my young friend, Haley (a fine Artist herself), is tipping between two worlds, still holding onto the Wonderment of Youth but slowly being exposed to that world of the sharks and “blue meanies” of the concrete jungle.

The “stories” have to do with hippos (asserting themselves); and frogs (breaking out of the mold); and anteaters (rediscovering possibilities); and a paper bag (pushing the limits of his world); and windbags/accordions (testing the limits of their environment); and larvae and bugeyes, just trying to exist with some meaning; and cats (being cats); and polar bears finding warmth in the cold; and penguins playing musical chairs; and, finally, breaking out of paper frames to become…humans/individuals(?).  All snippets of moments in their worlds.

In some ways it resembles Disney’s amazing, animated feature, Fantasia, with its blending of music and images.  Also, you may note, that many of the scenes presented include things that a child will instinctively find fascinating, such as bags, zoo animals, pets, bugs, paper, colorful objects and music.  All those elements are present here.  And there is also the marvelous interaction with the audience, especially children, which I shall remain mute on, lest it spoil the fun.

The creation of the costumes, masks and stories are all the product of Mouawad and Triffle and they are true artists, creating a unique world that even our imaginations could not conceive.  Genius is a word that could easily apply to them and their Art!  They are ably supported by Griesar and Forbes.  And the ensembles of performers, Jonathan Godsey, Pratik Motwani, Kaician Jade Kitko and Mark Mullaney are exceptional, having to be acrobats, dancers and able to evoke emotion by the twist of a head or the blink of an eye.  Bravo, troop!

It is sad to note that in this “new and improved” electronic age, the Arts have taken a backseat to just about everything.  Locally, in the Media, sports gets top billing and the Arts are rarely mentioned on television and only OPB gives it any real coverage at all.  Newspapers and the educational system are very haphazard about how they treat or include the Arts and Artists.  But Mouawad is able to express my feelings better and poetically, so below are some of his muses.

In his blog Mouawad hits on some very important points regarding Art vs. the digital age, which I happen to agree whole-heartedly with.  Here is a part of his thoughts, beautifully rendered:

“…Despite the fact that we have at our disposal a torrent of video games, social media, and unlimited movies and TV shows– we have become a Youtube culture always hungry for more.  We as humans, since our cognitive awareness began, have been transfixed by the magic of a sorcery, the incantations of the shaman and the magic of a secular performance. Each exhibited their presentation in the light of cave fire with a prop, a doll, a puppet or a mask. The only thing at their disposal was the play of light in the darkness or maybe a hidden string. It is this desire to enter a transformational world that cannot easily be explained by knowledge (some would say not easily explained by science) that is one of our strongest cultural desires. We seek a transformation created by a human hand, and by a human hand alone. Despite the fact that we may be in the age of decadence, we hunger for the true heart of wonder. Over the last decade or more, film goers quickly became acclimated to the effects of the digital age, and now any special effect that Hollywood pumps out is primarily welcomed with a yawn (with some exceptions of course. ) I am sure the boundaries will continue to be pushed of what is possible with film effects, but I don’t think that particular industry will ever overcome the awe created by the human hand alone.

If a single performer with the ancient tools of stagecraft can transform our world to something other than what we think it to be, then we have been transformed. When I watch a good movie, I am changed, but when I watch a great live performance, my soul has been nourished and I feel something more than a simple change, I feel I’ve been rejuvenated.

It is this experience of theatre that will never be challenged by technology. We know that it is art not science that is the soul’s transformational force. It is our imaginations, and not our eyes, that are the true windows into our hearts. It is something so common - this innate understanding of the true wonder of things – that you can have this discussion with a seven year old and both the adult and the child will ultimately agree – true magic does not live in a device but perhaps in the corner of the room where a seemingly inanimate object is waiting to take on life…”

To read the rest of his musings, go to
Farewell to Imago’s Fame

I highly recommend this show but tickets are selling fast so best get them soon.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.


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