MasterMimes: The Show, created and performed by Gabe Simms and Julianne Nogar, presents a series of … what to call them — vignettes? Scenes? Dances? — without words, accompanied by music. The subjects, which are identified on a chalkboard next to the performers, range from the mundane (“Morning Routine”) to the profound (“Grief”) to the macabre (“Deconstruction,” in which a performer seemingly peels off his skin and dismembers himself).
The show begins cleverly, as the audience enters to find a blank area with the two performers asleep together on the floor, slapping the snooze button on an invisible alarm clock. They then proceed to get up and go about their day, brushing teeth, taking showers, making breakfast. There seems to be some confusion as to how realistic this slice of life is supposed to be, however. Some gestures are presented in typical exaggerated mime fashion — twisting an oversize doorknob to open a door, or setting things down with a flourish on an invisible table, for instance. Others are more realistic, like the sleeping scene. One character actually scrubs his head when depicting washing his hair, the other doesn’t touch hers. And why do they make a point of putting their glasses on when they wake up, but then leave them on while showering or putting on eye makeup?
Some scenes are meant as broad comedy, like Simms jumping off a high-dive, or going to the men’s room and being apparently overwhelmed by the size of his neighbor’s… equipment. Others are more abstract and poetical, like “Grief,” which describes a couple’s relationship and tragic end, or the evening’s most powerful piece, “Stage 3,” Nogar’s wrenching but hopeful depiction of a woman surviving cancer. Another, “Skating,” is uncertain, as it somehow morphs from a jaunt at the ice rink to on-the-spot emergency surgery. At the end, there is a bit of audience participation, where viewers are invited to call out characters, props, and situation, and Simms and Nogar make up improvised mime scenes on the spot.
Simms and Nogar are talented and have worked on this for a year. But this confusion of mode — is it realism? Is it dance? Is it comedy? Is it tragedy? — ultimately makes the show less successful than it could be. For instance, in “Deconstruction,” when Simms removes various body parts, the music makes it clear this is meant to be serious, but the mystery of why it is happening, and the agonized faces he makes as he plucks out his eyes (which can’t help but recall the old mime joke of a guy popping out his glass eye, swizzling it around in his mouth to clean it and popping it back in) makes one wonder uncomfortably if this might be meant to be funny somehow. It is clear the performers want to explore the range of possibility in mime to depict all aspects of life from the trivial to the existential. But refining and clarifying how realistic or abstract, how funny or bizarre, each section is meant to be, could move it to the next level.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
MasterMimes: The Show, presented by Gabe Simms and Julianne Nogar, plays through July 22, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water Street SW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 866-811-4111, or purchase them online.