nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 18, 2009
"I am a lucky man because I know my name," says Gustave at the top of Cabaret Terrarium. This simple line not only sets the theme of Gustave's journey but its simplicity and dryness also sets the tone for the entire performance. This newest creation from New York-based comedy duo Harrington & Kauffman is as quirky and as dry as their other shows but this one in particular has a certain degree of polish that makes for a memorable experience.
This is third show in which Richard Harrington and Chris Kauffman assume the characters Gustave and Nhar respectively. Gustave speaks in a thick French accent and acts as the show's narrator and central character. Nhar does not speak at all...well, he does utter a few words under his breath, but for the most part Nhar never speaks and he spends most of his time acting out the action of the story being told. The story is centered around Gustave's journey to find himself. He was frozen in a block of ice and found by archeologists. They think he is a prehistoric man and thaw him out. When he awakens he has forgotten who he is and where he comes from. There are three clues on him and he uses those clues to trace his back-story. As his story slowly unfolds he begins to not only discover who he is but what kind of person he is as well.
As you enter the theatre, you are given a little wooden frog that comes with a stick for rubbing along the top, making a croaking noise. At the top of the show we are told that there is a man who is out to kill Gustave and that we must not laugh or cry lest we give away his location; so instead of laughing we are to croak our little frogs. (Hence the name Cabaret Terrarium.) The little frogs are a fun idea and I found that I would croak mine some of the time but certainly not every time I wanted to laugh.
There are odd songs sprinkled throughout the show. Some are covers of recorded songs such as "Hotel California." Others are original songs such as "The Song of My Childhood in Belgium." Gustave sings and plays the ukulele or toy accordion while Nhar mimes the action. The lyrics have no rhyme or meter and have the sound of a child making up silly words to a song. They are all pretty funny and count among the most entertaining segments of the show.
Harrington and Kauffman are excellent physical actors. They can get laughs from the slightest gesture or facial expression. Subtlety is key to their style and they work every angle of it. Their movements are established by their characters and they never deviate from the prescribed physicality. Nhar's movements are very fluid and mime-like. Gustave's are more jerky and angular. They complement each other very well. The story is quite funny. It unfolds like a mystery novel and then wraps around on itself which works very well for a callback to previous jokes. Their humor is bone dry and gets random chuckles and nose laughs. I really enjoy this sort of humor. These guys make clowning look so easy but you know it's not. They have put some nice polish on this show and it shows.
Once again this year The Brick is hosting their Clown Theater Festival [this year's mini-festival is called "Amuse Bouche"] and if this show is a hint at what the other shows are like then don't miss it. Harrington & Kauffman are very entertaining. Their wit will infect you before you even know it.