DOES THIS MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU?, at the Chopin Theatre. It was hard to tell when this show started. Codirector Noel Williams came into the theater several times, nervously smiling, muttering about high-strung performers. Meanwhile a stream of cries slowly rose from the lighting booth. When we finally overcame our politeness and turned to check out the commotion there, Gerkle (Anne Goldman) stuck her cherry-nosed head up and horrifiedly informed us that nothing was going on. Then she and clownish companion Zetta (Alice-Gray Lewis) clambered slowly down to the stage, alternately bickering and asking us what we were looking at. What followed was a strikingly casual, sophisticated, unpretentious combination of vaudeville, physical performance, and character-intensive acting.

Though refusing to ever declare what it was, the show gradually achieved coherence thanks to perfect shifts in tone assisted by seamless, well-chosen sound cues. Gerkle is the bitter, tired straight woman of this circus duo down on its luck while Zetta is a gifted physical performer who’s unfortunately insane: she relates to objects as people, and to people confusedly or not at all. What could have happened to these two? Is this their routine or a parody of their act in better days? It’s impossible to say. But Goldman and Lewis’s rapport was deep, their sense of when to break the fourth wall impeccable, and their bits were ravishingly well executed. Like Andy Kaufman and Ernie Kovacs, they understand that decontextualized pathos is a surer route to humor than strung-together gags.

–Brian Nemtusak