Content warning: this review contains mention of suicide.
I don’t remember the last time I left a show wishing it had been longer.
Italian Mime Suicide, with its meme-able title and posters spackled along Queen Street West, is a cornucopia of clown. There’s crescendoing visual clutter (clowns do love their mess, after all), physical comedy, and some rather strong ensemble work — this four person corps of clowns, with co-director and writer Adam Paolozza at its apex, is a collective organism all its own, pulsating and mesmerizing as they circle a clown weeping for the futility of mimekind. Add to that a slick onstage DJ, simple projections, and a playing space ripe with possibility, and you have this show: it’s a fun one.
Opening night was preceded by a harried announcement from Paolozza and co-director and dramaturge Kari Pederson: their stage manager is out this week after being exposed to COVID, meaning Pederson’s running a lightboard while the lighting op calls the show, and please be gentle we’re doing our best this has been really hard. A red flag unpursued: no tech glitches or hiccups on Saturday night, and if nothing had been said I wouldn’t have known. Bravo to the team, both onstage and off — the loss of an SM is no small last-minute change.
The show itself: Paolozza’s unnamed character is a mime and a good one, seemingly having lost a love for the artform as he mopes through time and space. Per the Theatre Centre website, it’s loosely based on a true story: an Italian mime committed suicide in 2003, fearing no one appreciated his dying artform. We travel from the moon to a ladder to a hilarious simulated talk show, revelling in buffoonery at each stop. Italian narration with projected subtitles tells us: this is a mime disconnected from his humanity, and the possibility of suicide is within reach. The lack of access to language is all-consuming, and the existential dread he’s feeling can’t be understated — or, er, under-mimed.
Paolozza’s front and centre for much of the performance, and he’s fantastic: his Lecoq training shines through him. His mime is precise and readable, and his ensemble work is generous and playful. Rounding out the (sorry) Suicide Squad are Rob Feetham, Ericka Leobrera, and Nicholas Eddie, who each have a vignette or two to claim as their own. Feetham’s consistently on the money — from his first futile attempts at catching the moon, or in reality, a yoga ball, we know he’ll be one to keep an eye on for subtle gestures and sight gags. (Watch him in the talk show bit: a coke joke flits by quickly and yet is so funny.) He too is consistently precise in his mime. A sequence in which the corps du mime each climb an invisible ladder serves as a benchmark of clown execution which Paolozza and Feetham pass with flying colours. Leobrera and Eddie are more captivating when they’re working together and exploring the more indulgent of clown sequences — the mess-making, the circus acts, the simulated talk show speeches.
The inclusion of live DJ SlowPitchSound is a wise one — sound and music can react to the show in real time (and performers can react right back), and we get some inventive new beats in the process. Arif Mirabdolgbaghi’s original compositions are fresh and appropriately playful, and only amplified and further improved by SlowPitchSound’s turntabling. The set is almost ludicrously simple — a white felt disc in the middle of the floor — and that’s the right choice here, as it leaves the performers the requisite space to bumble around and over each other.
My only regret with this show is its length, and I can certainly think of worse problems to have. Sixty minutes sails by way too quickly: I wanted more. Italian Mime Suicide is a wacky and well-executed good time — another knockout addition to what’s feeling increasingly like a full-on post-COVID renaissance in Toronto theatre.
Italian Mime Suicide runs until May 1 at The Theatre Centre. Tickets are available here.