nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
January 14, 2012
Winner of a 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Best, LEO is a fabulous piece of physical theater. It is the funniest, most imaginative wordless performance I have ever seen.
Tobias Wegner must surely be a superclown. But in this show he looks like a modestly well-dressed hipster in slacks, vest, tie, hat and sneakers in a normal-looking set: two blue walls and a red wall for the floor. This show also has a full-length video screen stage right, broadcasting exactly what is happening on the set. However, the genius of the show is that the camera trained on the set is 90 degrees off. Yes, when Tobias is standing up leaning against a wall on screen, he is actually lying on his back on stage. For sixty minutes, he brilliantly delivers sight-gag after gymnastic feat after jaw-dropping stunt.
It takes the audience a minute to figure out what's going on. Then Tobias's character takes another 10 to question why his tie is drooping when he is standing up straight, or why when he throws his hat straight in front of him it boomerangs back. He then tries to escape from gravity, with a little help from his briefcase. When he opens it, a parade of changing songs plays. Some highlights are an Indian sitar number which throws him way up a wall with his legs crossed, Frank Sinatra singing "I've Got The World On a String," and a funky barrage of breakdancing music. It only gets more inventive when he uses chalk on the walls to create a home interior, and then some of those drawings come alive on the video screen.
I can see why this work from Berlin's Circle of Eleven, with Montréal-based director Daniel Brière, starring a Belgian-trained circus genius, was beloved at the mother of all theater festivals in Scotland and is now ready to tour the U.S. and hopefully the world. The story is so universal and easy to enjoy. You can only wonder if astronauts taught them the math of which way to jump and climb. Choreographer Juan Kruz Diaz de Garao Esnaola seamlessly brings together a dizzying number of styles, although I expect it was much harder than it looks (I haven't even mentioned the part about Swan Lake yet…). Flavia Hevia's set and lighting design are deceptively simple and prepared for all possibilities. Heather MacCrimmon's costume design, like everything else in LEO, breaks the mold and freshly denounces the corny associations some might have with this genre. Haiko Kaimbach's video ironically makes this a show you really have to see in person, while Ingo Panke's animation is the only way to make an escape from sharks and whales during a flood in your living room.