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A CurtainUp Review
 Guy Dartnell, Phelim McDermott, Lee Simpson

Guy Dartnell, Phelim McDermott, Lee Simpson (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Spirit is a precious bauble of improvisationally devised theatricality that goes straight to the heart and for many hits the funny bone as well. Three British lads, of the London-based troupe Improbable, seem caught in a Beckettian other-world in which our notions of space and time become unreliable and maybe even irrelevant.

Performing mostly on an extremely raked wooden ramp with assorted trap doors, which at times appear to have been initially inspired by the madcap window exchanges made famous decades ago on televisionís Laugh-In. But there is considerably more depth here than in that broadcast buffoonery, and tenderness too. Especially in the beginning of the 80-minute elaborate contrivance, moments of simplicity are awesome in the most genuine sense.

As the three men slowly appear one at a time from separate trap doors, simple greeting gestures are examined as if under a microscope, and yet with the most gentle and natural of human behavior, qualities sadly now all too rare in both art and life. An early dialogue examines "winking" versus "blinking" in an unpredictable and artful manner that has much of the audience apoplectic with laughter. Although many may see the story here as incidental or even irrelevant, its substance and tone both underscore the importance that the piece gives to the ideas of belonging and identity.

Three young adult brothers are companions in their work at a bakery, as in their bachelor lives at home. War has interrupted routines and brings an anticipated conscription letter for one of them, but another intercepts the letter and serves in his older brotherís place. Battles are simulated as if in a surrealistic dream, with headless puppets employed as the soldiers. Assorted surrogates are employed for the missing soldier heads, including available bits of bread from the bakery among the inventive replacements.

The improvisational thrust of Spirit continues even after several years of development and performances in different cities. So, the acting trio makes a point of incorporating audience reaction into each performance underway. Unlike most interactive theatre, this is decidedly gentle to its audience, again recognizing the genuineness in human behavior and incorporating it into the work. Typically, a demonstrative laugher unwittingly becomes part of the play by virtue of his or her own visceral response.

The use of the word Beckettian in this reviewís initial paragraph was no accident. This is the rare case in which naturalistic behavior and implausible and even absurd situations are comfortable bedfellows. As to beds, one of the most charming moments of Spirit involves bedtime for the three brothers, in which sacks of bakery flour double as pillows, and apparent absurdity transforms into comic delight.

Apart from a brief distraction involving birds, the entire performance seen played seamlessly and was highly engaging. Notable production credit goes to the ingenious set design team and to Andrew Paineís background tapestry of soothing and even intoxicating recorded music. After their current brief engagement, letís hope we see the Improbable gang again soon.

Direction: Julian Crouch and Arlene Audergon
Cast: Guy Dartnell, Phelim McDermott, Lee Simpson.
Design Realization: Julian Crouch, Graeme Gilmour, Rob Thirtle, Helen Maguire
Sound Design: Andrew Paine
Lighting Design: Colin Grenfell
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes - with no intermission.
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St. (2nd Ave/Bowery) 212/239-6200
From 9/13/05 to 10/09/05; opening 9/15/05
Tues & Sun @ 7:00PM, Wed through Sat @ 8:00PM, Sat @ 3:00PM, Sun @ 2:00pm Viewed by Brad Bradley at September 18thperformance
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