Billy The Mime
nytheatre.com review by Tomi Tsunoda
August 12, 2006
Billy The Mime is a one-man variety show depicting the most taboo and controversial stories of our culture without text, sets, props, or regard for the audience's comfort-level. Picking from a long list of routines, the show is a collage of modern day fairy tales, each introduced by a simple sheet of posterboard with a title scrolled across it in black Sharpie.
The entire concept of the show is Billy miming through some of the most iconic and controversial stories of our time, and it is a brilliant idea. Billy is fearless and merciless in the topics he chooses to cover, and smartly saves the classic mime gestures we all recognize for moments that will earn them the most mileage.
As the titles emerged from backstage—"JFK, Jr., We Hardly Knew Ye"; "Close To Her: Karen Carpenter"; "Terry Schiavo, Adieu"—the audience would moan, preparing for how completely wrong any mimed version of these stories could be.
However, most of the routines themselves didn't deliver the kind of punch the titles seem to promise. Mostly they were condensed summaries of the stories as we already knew them, making the experience a game of how quickly you could figure out which part of the story he was telling. This was made worse by some audience members' unfortunate tendency to narrate what he was doing as each scene went on, as if the entire show were an elaborate game of charades.
The stories did get more deliciously naughty and upsetting as the show went on, with routines such as "The Priest and The Altar Boy," "Thomas & Sally—A Night At Monticello," and "The Abortion." I found myself wondering if lighter scenes at the beginning were purposeful, to prepare us for the scenes to come. But even the more risky of the scenes lack a unique point-of-view in the storytelling. Most of these stories are ones we all already know. Why do we need to watch mimed versions of JFK crashing his plane, a businessman jumping out of the World Trade Center during 9/11, or a gay man doing drugs and dying of AIDS in 1979, unless to shed some light upon these stories that has not been shed before? Even the stories that do carry some weight do so seemingly by default, simply because the genre of mime makes it unavoidable. For example, it's impossible to avoid fully personifying an undeveloped fetus if it is enacted by an adult man.
Despite the socio-political button-pushing of the stories, the most effecting scenes of the night are the two that aren't plucked from headlines, and they bookended the show. The first, "A Romance," tells the classic boy-meets-girl story between two hands; the last, "The Clown & The Beautiful Woman," brought a very patient audience member on stage for a full-bodied love story. These more classic tales rang truer, maybe because they seemed to be there with a purpose beyond shock value.
Anyone who appreciates the art of mime in and of itself should definitely make the trip, just to marvel at how precise and delicate each of Billy's movements can be. The agility of his hands, in particular, is wondrous as he creates vivid images of people, props, and body parts that aren't actually there. A whole world comes to life in front of you, then disappears just as quickly as he moves on to the next moment. The show's not deep, but it's a fun night out, and probably not the mime you're used to.