Partners in Mime

Drew Richardson is a mime–nothing more and nothing less. He puts on airs, calling himself a “dramatic fool” and a “darkly absurd clown,” but that only proves what a mime he really is. Because nothing is more mimelike than pretending to be something more than a mime. Marcel Marceau never tired of reminding anyone who would listen that his mime persona “Bip” was actually an existential hero, symbolic of the lost individual in mass society.

Drew Richardson has similarly grandiose ideas about the profundity of his work. He fills the program for his play Drum Solo with pretentious quotations about clowns from such diverse sources as Heinrich Boll (“I am a clown . . . I collect moments”) and Jacques Lecoq (“The clowns have taken the heroes’ place”), in the vain hope that we’ll be fooled into thinking that “clown theater and movement” is really an obscure branch of philosophy. Worse, Richardson has the audacity to say in his press release that Drum Solo is “one part Beckett, one part Keaton, and one part Wile E. Coyote.”

All Richardson shares with Beckett is a love for deceptively simple situations and language. However, Beckett always means more than he says, and in the end Richardson always means less. When Beckett places two clownish men in the middle of a desert in Waiting for Godot and lets them prattle on about their lives and daily routines, their conversation literally buzzes with significant ideas about the moral, spiritual, and philosophical dilemmas of our age. When Richardson places a clownish simpleton named Millll in the middle of the stage and has him tell us, “I like birds. I like doughnuts. I like birds and I like doughnuts,” he is after nothing more than that cheap mime emotionalism that equates simplicity with goodness and goodness with likability. Just how shallow, decadent, and mean-spirited Richardson’s sentimentality truly is becomes apparent a few moments later when Millll decides to commit hara-kiri after hearing the news that “the bird died” and “the doughnut company isn’t making doughnuts anymore.” Luckily Millll is even too stupid to know how to disembowel himself. He sticks the knife in (ha ha) but doesn’t die (ha ha ha).

Richardson never stoops to pushing against invisible walls or walking against a stiff imaginary wind. But just because he has the sense to avoid the big cliches doesn’t mean the dozens of little cliches that make up his work won’t remind you of hundreds of other more adept physical comedians and make you wish you were watching them instead of him. Richardson is clearly well-trained–his bio states that he studied with such “clown-theatre and movement” luminaries as John Towsen, Sigfrido Aguilar, and Jacques Lecoq. But his technique has an exhausted and unspontaneous quality about it that is made all the worse by the forced simplicity of his characterizations.

Billed as a “one-act clown play,” Drum Solo proves to be little more than a 50-minute excuse to pour the same old mime and clown shtick–the eccentric walks, the “charming” childlike worldview, red and black noses–into a new format. Richardson plays two very different characters–the childlike Millll and the mischievous adolescent Mipple–portraying their differences with mimish techniques that impressed only a few in the audience. Mipple, you see, clomps loudly around the stage with his tongue stuck out and flattened down over his lower lip, while Millll takes light baby steps and keeps his tongue in his mouth. Millll also wears a red clown nose, and Mipple wears a black one. (How’s that for deep symbolism. At least Millll isn’t wearing a white nose.)

Through alternating scenes we get to see how very different Mipple and Millll are: Millll is sweet and good and sensitive, and Mipple is an asshole. Until the final moments of the play, when we see how a Millll becomes a Mipple.

Watching Drum Solo, I kept thinking about that scene in Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman, taking a long sad walk through Central Park, happens upon a mime imitating a tightrope walker. Hoffman watches for a moment and then in disgust pushes the mime off his imaginary rope. More than once during this very long solo piece I wanted to jump up and push Richardson off his imaginary rope. Maybe with a little more performing experience this young “dramatic fool” will get off it all by himself.