Homage to silent performer is a bit too talkative

Sarah Ware as Bip in Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of There Is No Silence (photo by Matt Hazard)
Sarah Ware as Bip in Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s production of There Is No Silence (photo by Matt Hazard)

By Richard Ades

The title There Is No Silence is surprisingly accurate. Even though Ohio State’s original work is inspired by the life of renowned mime artist Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), there’s a whole lot of talking going on.

The show is only minutes old when we’re introduced to Trixie (Jane Elliott), a mime-in-training who can’t seem to keep her mouth shut. At times, she asks for suggestions from the viewers—for example, what should be on the other end of the invisible rope she’s about to pull. (“Me!” an enthusiastic little girl called from the audience on opening night.)

Trixie, who later reappears as a revised character named Marbles, is a lively and personable presence, but she’s too verbose to be an effective mime. It’s not clear why she’s given such a prominent role in an homage to the French master of silence.

However, the show’s main problem is its lack of focus, which is likely due to the number of hands involved in its creation. Conceived and directed by former Marceau student Jeanine Thompson, it also was “devised” by the MFA Acting Cohort and written by Jennifer Schlueter and Max D. Glenn. Add the technological input of the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, and it’s easy to understand why the production goes off in so many directions.

One minute it comes across as a classroom lecture, dutifully ticking off the now-obscure performers who inspired Marceau. At other times, it allows performers to expound at length about their own connections to the artist or his craft.

At still other times, the show delves into Marceau’s challenging relationships with his daughter, Aurelia (Camille Bullock), and collaborator/wife, Anne Sicco (Melonie Mazibuko). In fact, a fierce argument between Cousteau and Sicco ends Act 1—an odd choice, since viewers don’t know enough about the wife to care about the fight’s outcome.

Much more enlightening is an Act 2 historical section that details Marceau’s anti-Nazi activities during World War II. But the show is the most engrossing when its performers honor Marceau’s craft by showing off their own silent grace.

The most graceful of all is Sarah Ware, who captures the essence of Marceau’s stage alter ego, Bip. Another wordless (but musically accompanied) highlight is a dance performed by Aaron Michael Lopez, one of four men who take turns playing Marceau. (The others are Sifiso Mazibuko, Brent Ries and Patrick Wiabel.)

The ACCAD-aided sections, such as one in which the electronically produced outlines of Marceau and a live performer move in perfect unison, are technologically impressive. But our appreciation of Marceau is bolstered more by the segments that honor the mime in the most appropriate way: by showing just how expressive the silent human body can be.

Ohio State Theatre will present There Is No Silence through April 13 in the Thurber Theatre, Drake Performance Center, 1849 Cannon Drive. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20; $18 for faculty, staff, alumni association members and senior citizens; $15 for students and children. 614-292-2295 or theatre.osu.edu.

Author: Richard Ades

Richard Ades was the arts editor of The Other Paper, a weekly news-and-entertainment publication, from 2008 until it was shut down on Jan. 31, 2013. He also served as TOP's theater critic throughout its 22-year existence.

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