The Austin Mime Theatre is Michael Lee, a talented, craggily handsome, full-fledged and fully diploma-ed mime. Yes, he studied with Marcel Marceau, the genius whose grace, dexterity and striking appearance became the essence of mime -- the "art of silence" -- for the Western world in the second half of the twentieth century. Marceau died in 2007 at the age of 84, and Michael Lee is justifiably proud to list in the program that he worked with the master in nine different sessions between 1987 and 2001.
The first half of This Uh . . . Body was in essence a recital given by Lee and by the students and associates of his newly founded Austin Mime Theatre. Kyle Connealy and Amelia Turner in Sculptor's Love were the artist and his perfect model; Window Dressing brought together intriguing mannequins in a dress shop with an outrageously garbed and strutting fashionista raucously squawking in Spanish, played by the sensuously lipped, deliriously gifted Melissa Trevino-Parga.
Lee himself presents two short haunting pieces: an old man suddenly captured by a vivid memory of youth, and later, to the strains of Scott Joplin's rag The Entertainer, a circus clown at the make-up table, dealing with the faces of comedy and tragedy that alternately take possession of his features.
Along with those, a special treat: Lee appeared in the center of the Vortex's small space, smiling, and broke the conventions by speaking to the audience. In a lightly amused tone he recalled and demonstrated some of the inevitable expectations of mime performance, including the mute encounter with invisible walls, climbing a rope and drawing a string.
The first half of the evening consisted of individual mime concepts, a duo and small group sketches. The second half, in contrast, filled that small playing space with intense but wordless activity. In a series of scenes and vignettes a cast of fully a dozen players intently presented the frantic but focused life that filled a city thoroughfare. As the music of Bradley Murphy scored and underscored the urban rush, a male body sprawled inert in the public street, unnoticed by most.
Scene titles emphasized the everyday: Daily Routine, Body Slam, Morning in Suburbia, Night on the Street and Day Is Done. The banality of ordinary life became increasingly absurd.
As one absorbed these contrasts and pondered the message, an entirely different theme inevitably echoed, silent but loud: when does mime become ballet? Both are intensely corporal arts, and the riveting story-telling of This Uh -- Body blurred any possible distinctions between them.
In the finale, Lee as the victim/derelict/afflicted person suddenly quivered, then began to struggle to revive. He fought to regain possession of his own body. The spectacle became intensely personal and yet at the same time evocative of Everyman.
One of the great promises of the art of mime is that its works may date less rapidly than those of spoken text. Let us hope to see these pieces reworked and presented again -- so that they may reach, teach and delight a wider audience.
Click to view the program for This Uh . . . Body by the Austin Mime Theatre