Review: "Take Shape" Is Mime-umentally Entertaining

Take Shape

Created and performed by Nick Abeel, Becky Baumwoll, Ismael Castillo, Julia Cavagna, Géraldine Dulex, Blake Habermann, David Jenkins, Marissa Molnar, Kristin McCarthy Parker, Tasha Milkman, Regan Sims, Jae Woo, with collaboration from Josh Wynter

Presented by Broken Box Mime Theater at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres

502 West 53rd St. Manhattan, NYC

April 1-May 1, 2022

BKBX Take Shape featuring David Jenkins, Jae Woo, Marissa Molnar, Tasha Milkman. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder

Need a break from theater that's all about words, words, words? If so, Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX) has the non-verbal answer with its new show, Take Shape. If not, see it anyway–it's pretty terrific. Take Shape comprises segments varying in subject and length and ranging in mood from from cheeky to energizing to meditative, all of which coalesce into a beguiling whole. The production will include affinity nights for groups including "neurodiverse communities, d/Deaf audiences, people whose first language is not English, parents, educators, and more" (see the BKBX site for a full schedule), and because the theater in which it is playing sits on unceded Lenape land, the company will also make a donation to The Lenape Center. Affinity night performances are followed by interactive talkbacks, and all shows are followed by an opportunity to "Sculpt n' Chat" in the lobby.

BKBX Take Shape featuring David Jenkins, Becky Baumwoll, Marissa Molnar, Kristin McCarthy Parker, Blake Habermann, Jae Woo. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder

Just before the show begins (and after a hypnotic pre-show video loop of the performers applying their transformative makeup), the audience is informed that some of the pieces offer narratives while others are more like poems. Many of these latter function as short, transitional interludes, although the chapter, if we may call it that, titled "Shell" sits somewhere between the narrative and poetic, with its juxtaposition of a couple's problems with waves (composed, of course, of the performers) sweeping over the stage, both marking the passage of time and creating a kind of organic pulse. The larger, narrative chapters are given titles onstage that provide the audience with an interpretive entry point; more context can be found in the program, but we personally didn't read it until afterward and quite enjoyed that little extra bit of imaginative labor. Some chapters, such as "Cooking with Jan," which finds a man (Nick Abeel) increasingly struggling to keep up with an instructional cooking video (with Becky Baumwoll's chef doing an impressive job of being fast forwarded, paused, and rewound), are purely comedic. Others, such as corporate critique "...Committed to a Greener Future," boast a more satirical edge. There are chapters with more than a tinge of melancholy (who would think that stroking an invisible cat would muster as much emotional impact as it does in "Housing Crisis"?); and there is even a detour into the blockbuster heist genre with "Leave No Trace," which plays with changes in scale and multiple simultaneous locations. As bookends, a pair of segments incorporating circular symbolism ties all of these pieces together.

BKBX Take Shape featuring Becky Baumwoll, Marissa Molnar, David Jenkins, Blake Habermann, Kristin McCarthy Parker, Ismael Castillo, Tasha Milkman. Photo by Bjorn Bolinder

One interlude shines a much-deserved individual light on music director Jack McGuire, who manages live and recorded music from a corner of the stage near the audience. This sonic component, along with many of the chapters being backlit with a dominant color, effectually sets a distinctive mood for each segment. And the cast, to a mime, are splendidly skillful and utterly absorbing. Over the course of the show, Take Shape takes many different shapes, and all of them are captivating.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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