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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Excellent Performances Don’t Go Far Enough In ‘Italian Mime Suicide’

By Paula Citron on April 27, 2022

'Suicide of a Mime' ('Suicide d'un Mime a l'italienne') (Photo: Najim Chaoui)
‘Italian Mime Suicide’ (‘Suicide d’un Mime a l’italienne’) (Photo: Najim Chaoui)

Bad New Days/Italian Mime Suicide, developed and co-directed by Adam Paolozza and Kari Pederson, Franco Boni Theatre, Theatre Centre, Apr. 21 to May 1. Tickets available here.

Italian Mime Suicide has come to Toronto on a wave of acclaim, including being one of the Montreal Gazette’s Top 10 Shows of 2021. I found, however, that the production did not go far enough.

First of all, let me curse the festival format. In Europe, in particular, dance programmers love productions that are an hour long, because it makes creating a schedule easy. As a result, I’ve seen countless shows that have been stretched out or cut short because of the idealized one-hour goal. I don’t know whether Italian Mime Suicide was rendered one hour with festivals in mind, but it feels that it is not long enough.

Italian Mime Suicide is physical theatre, a genre that involves mime and clown. Artists who toil in physical theatre have to fight for audiences because it is not for all tastes. In fact, one really has to admire their tenacity.

For this production, creators Adam Paolozza and Kari Pederson were inspired by the death of an Italian mime, who committed suicide in 2003 by throwing himself off a building, claiming that no one appreciated his art. That news story was certainly going to capture their attention, given the work that they do, namely physical theatre in general, and mime and clown in particular.

'Suicide of a Mime' ('Suicide d'un Mime a l'italienne') (Photo: Najim Chaoui)
‘Italian Mime Suicide’ (‘Suicide d’un Mime a l’italienne’) (Photo: Najim Chaoui)

There is, not surprisingly, a melancholy air about Italian Mime Suicide, as conventional mime shtick is woven together with sarcastic commentary. The projection screen contains philosophical texts describing mime in highfaluting language, which is in contrast with some of the low comedy demonstrated on the stage below.

We see the amusing antics of a mime (Rob Feetham) chasing a big ball that he can’t catch, and literally bouncing off it. We watch as three mimes (Feetham, Nicholas Eddie and Ericka Leobrera) imitate monkeys, or try to catch the moon. Throughout, however, is a Pierrot figure (Paolozza), who is clearly a real sad sack.

In a mock TV interview, the Pierrot figure is treated with disdain, particularly when he is asked to do The Wall, made famous by French mime Marcel Marceau, which is an insult as it negates his own original work. In fact, the projection screen behind him reads, “Must I?”

There is also a mock Q&A when Pierrot finally speaks, expressing the importance of mime, and trying to explain its relevance to theatre, unfortunately to deaf ears. When asked to define mime, the answer is “Career Suicide”. There are also some moving scenes involving a ladder and the illusion of jumping to his death.

'Suicide of a Mime' ('Suicide d'un Mime a l'italienne') (Photo: Najim Chaoui)
‘Italian Mime Suicide’ (‘Suicide d’un Mime a l’italienne’) (Photo: Najim Chaoui)

So why is this not enough? I think the show needs some more laugh-out-loud vignettes like chasing the ball. How can we appreciate the mime’s death without seeing his art? Paolozza and Pederson certainly have the goods to come up with some sparkling original routines.

And, finally, when they have the audience laughing, hit them with the sadness, and the touching sequences depicting the mime’s death. The role of the sad, world-weary mime could certainly be more fleshed out.

The show seemed to be over, just as soon as it had begun. In fact, I was shocked as the bows happened. I wasn’t ready.

The four mimes are excellent performers who are clearly committed to their craft. The vignettes, for the most part, are clever. Evgenia Mikhaylova’s costumes and projections (based on the original designs, presumably from the workshop and Montreal production) are suitably Commedia inspired, while Andre Du Toit’s moody lighting adds to the melancholia.

The original music, a fusion of jazz, electro and traditional polyphonic singing, not to mention Italian pop songs, is by Arif Mirabdolbaghi, and is performed with panache by turntablist DJ SlowPitchSound (aka Cheldon Paterson).

In short, Italian Mime Suicide has a lot to offer. I just want more.

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Paula Citron
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