Rock 'n Roll Penguin
nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
May 9, 2009
Rock 'n' Roll Penguin is a children's show, make no mistake. Any adults looking for the physical derring-do or outrageous physical comedy that Broadway marketing directors occasionally deem inappropriate for grownups should look elsewhere. But the show is still a great place to bring any kid and still have a few laughs yourself.
Gamarjobat means "hello" in Georgian even though Ketch! and HIRO-PON met at a mime festival back home in Japan. The name may be inexplicable but their meeting place is not, and mime technique is the backbone of the show. Suitcases stay still in mid-air as the men run around them or suddenly become too heavy to lift. Tug-of-wars with invisible ropes go haywire, and sometimes the show goes into extended slow motion. With the help of a portable black screen the men grow taller, have incredibly long arms, or turn into each other. Also on display are: three-ball juggling, removable body parts, stuffed animals, and audience participation for the whole family. Most of the tricks have simple rules (throw the ball onto the man's Velcro hat!) clear outcomes (if you don't, we'll hit you with a hammer!) and silliness (they duck to escape the ball, or dive under it to make it stick). Using these and other simple devices Gamarjobat thwarts expectations of the physical world with precision and commitment.
The eponymous penguin shows up halfway through the show and perches behind a tiny drum kit. As the performers dance it onto the stage, a song with the lyrics "come sell out with me" plays. Is that song only meant to comment on the perils of a career in popular music, or did the stuffed penguin make it into the show just to cash in on the last gasp of the March of the Penguins craze? The adult theatergoer can't help but wonder. Gamarjobat wears black suits with white shirts, they throw on some flippers, and there's a saucy little penguin move they teach to their audience participants, but penguins seem much beside the point. The rock 'n' roll is a little more central, though all musical stylings remain in the service of their special brand of "got your nose!" physical comedy.
It's a snappy show with clean, committed performances perfect for the young kids in your life. Unfortunately, for a single adult it's only slightly more entertaining than the antics of a gifted birthday party clown performing for a room full of five-year-olds you don't know.