Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Children of Paradise,” Richmond Shepard’s new play being performed at the Theater for the New City, is a combination of several mime pieces seen in the film version of the same name and the life story of Baptiste Gaspard Debureau the famous pantomime who performed in France during the 19th century. The spoken dialogue in the script provides information about Debureau’s character, demeanor, and lifestyle offstage while the intricately choreographed mime pieces examine the true brilliance of his craft.
A somewhat lost art, fragments of mime can be seen today in the physical isolation of break dancers or certainly in the robotic gestures of several street performers, but the true essence only exists when pairing precise physical movement with exaggerated emotional facial expression to capture the audience.
The cast of thirteen provides an admirable attempt to recreate the original sketches using their skills of magic, mime, dance and acrobatics but the result, although interesting, is somewhat unsuccessful. Each of the three pieces falls short of the emotional collaboration needed for the audience to connect with the characters, putting too much effort and emphasis on the physical choreography. The dialogue is enlightening and manages to connect the action as the audience journeys into the past exposing Debureau’s character, but the delivery is forced and stilted.
Two exceptions who turn in engaging performances are Denise M. Whalen and Jonathan Hendrickson. Each of these actors brightens the stage with their precise movement in sync with telling facial expression and wide eyed enthusiasm. Live music for this production was adequately provided by Harrison Wade on keyboard and drums.
If you have never seen a live pantomime performance take this rare opportunity to enjoy the theatrical experience and learn about one of its prominent historical figures. Attend to acknowledge the energetic, multitalented cast who will entertain with their devotion and passion to learn a complicated, intricate and physically demanding art form.