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A CurtainUp Review
3 Dark Tales
by Les Gutman
The name of the British theater troupe making its American debut with 3 Dark Tales may be a source of ambiguity, so let me begin by clearing it up. The "O" in Theatre O is defined in the playbill as "an exclamation expressing surprise, admiration, pain, longing, joy, etc.". It could just as easily refer to the shape of one's mouth while watching the show, although that "O" is repeatedly reconfigured into the "U" of an unusually emphatic grin. The definition, nonetheless, is not false advertising, as all of the described emotions are among those one experiences while watching this "tragi-comedy in three movements" as the show's website (linked below) describes it.
Theatre O was founded in 1997 by Joseph Alford, who directs and performs in this production, and consists of performers who, like Alford, are alumni of the late Jacques Lecoq's school in Paris. The Lecoq style, owing a debt to its commedia forebears, includes mime, masks and a heavy reliance on the physical aspects of performance. There is much evidence that the four performers here gleaned at great deal from their training, but it is just as clear Alford and company have heeded Lecoq's parting words (quoted above); they have invented for themselves a distinct form of theater.
There are, for the record, no masks in 3 Dark Tales; the cast members in fact use their faces so expressively one wonders if they could not unveil entire stories with them. (Mr. Alford's eyes alone could seemingly do the job.) It's but one of an arsenal of tools they seem to have at their disposal. Among the others: dance, movement and sometimes quite remarkable tongues that deliver words, foreign or domestic, or just sounds, with amazing dexterity. The amalgam functions with the precision of a Swiss watch.
The combination of forces brought forth is as mind-boggling as it is somehow familiar. As I watched a PBS show on the life and work of Chuck Jones (the great animation guru responsible for everything from Bugs Bunny to the Grinch), the familiarity finally registered: Theatre O has marshalled its considerable talents to convey on the stage many of the qualities we hitherto thought reserved to the great animated classics. 3 Dark Tales may best be thought of as a cartoon in three-dimensions, revealing the out-sized characters, stunning range of motion and impeccable integration of music that distinguishes Jomes at his best. From the moment Alford blasts out of a wardrobe and onto the stage, we are in for a cavalcade of entertainment.
The three tales spun for us are meditations on the trials and tribulations that carry us from home to work and back again as we hunt for what the British call the way out. "Dream On Mr Tibble" is the first and best of the lot, energetically showcasing Alford and Coxon in particular. After it, the other two pieces, "The Unfortunate Predicament of Amelia Sas" and Frank's Wardrobe" are something of a letdown. Both have their moments but Theatre O (wisely) plays its best card first.
The stories may not quite sustain the effort, and the humor may eventually strike some as a bit tedious (especially those not enamored of an overdose of zaniness), but there's far too much going on here to notice such things very much. And if, as many suspect, we are heading into an energy crisis, we might be well served by harnessing the power of these four actors and keeping them on our shores.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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