at Link’s Hall

Mime is usually ranked as the lowest form of theater, even below performance art. After mime had its 15 minutes of fame in the late 70s with Shields and Yarnell, a summer television series starring two mimes, America decided that it hated mimes. Perhaps it’s the fey sweetness mimes liberally sprinkle on their shows, stealing ripe bits from the great clowns of our time. And a country like ours, where violent action films are box-office hits and the most popular clowns are abusive stand-up comics, has little time for feyness or sweetness.

Perhaps mime doesn’t seem manly. Given a theater world that loves Mamet’s inarticulate men and a literature whipsawed between Hemingway and stern-jawed feminists, a mime about a young man assembling the pieces of his masculinity like a jigsaw puzzle isn’t just fey, it may seem soft and feminine.

But I think the underlying reason for America’s antipathy is the market economy. The entertainment industry sells commodities–stand-up comics, Danielle Steele, television actors–with the broadest possible appeal. Mime is a modest, specialized vocation, mostly seen by aficionados; it’s a classic example of a niche market, in which supply usually exceeds demand. In this country, the smart money is on violence and macho blowhards.

The only country that keeps a mime tradition alive is France, that perennial antagonist to American sensibilities, with a people who don’t let market forces control their culture. Paris is where Kevin Rechner trained, at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Among Others is his first work, for which he’s done almost everything: he wrote it, created the masks and props, designed the lighting, and performs it, even playing guitar. It is a sprawling mess, stuffed with manic comic routines stolen from several of the great clowns. But at the center of this marshmallow is a fable with honest feelings that responds honorably to the historical moment.

Rechner, a slight, wiry young man, builds his fable around an everyboy who goes into the world to seek fame and fortune. With crowd noises coming from loudspeakers to create a background, the boy walks onstage holding a suitcase, headed for his first apartment, which entails long passages of that exaggerated walking movement mimes love. Once in the apartment the boy puts things from his suitcase onto shelves, a simple task that unleashes an unending torrent of mime shtick: using a wooden stool as the steering wheel of an imaginary car, driving a gigantic screw into his chest, and a hundred other fleeting images. A few routines are memorable, however. When Rechner opens a tiny plastic garbage can it becomes a Pandora’s box–a malevolent genie is released that takes over Rechner’s body until he forces it back into the can. The routine brings to mind the Disney film Aladdin, whose protean genie is modeled on Robin Williams and uses his voice; at its best, Rechner’s physical plasticity recalls Williams’s free-form impersonations. But unfortunately most of the material seems like knockoffs of Laurel and Hardy routines stuck into the middle of the wrong story.

After this overlong opening Rechner focuses on his plot. The everyboy goes through the drudgery of working every day; Rechner has fine mimes of stepping into a shower in the morning, getting drunk on Saturday night, and going to church on Sunday morning. He caps the section with an a cappella song about how hard work is, accompanied by workmanlike movements, and how a winning lottery ticket seems the only possible escape. Later the boy puts on a clay mask that seems to have been molded on his father’s face. Wearing the mask he becomes his old man, complete with bad posture and a potbelly. When the boy takes off the mask, he hangs it on the bookshelf with some tenderness, as if living inside his father’s skin has taught him something about growing up.

After each episode the boy finds a large, intricately carved piece of wood–a piece of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle. When the boy has collected four puzzle pieces he’s able to solve the puzzle: it is an incomplete picture of a strong, attractive man. This solution to the puzzle is not surprising but it is satisfying. Recognizing that things have to change, the boy prepares to leave his first apartment but cannot fit the completed puzzle into his old suitcase; instead he slips off with the puzzle under his arm, leaving everything else behind.

Mime is a difficult craft to practice in America, both because of general antipathy toward it and because of a mime’s temptation to steal willy-nilly. Rechner doesn’t really overcome these obstacles, but the story he has created is sweet and unaffected.