Metaphor and transformation are vital to circus acts entering into the theatrical realm. Cirque du Soleil has made a major international industry of mastering such a mix. On a much more intimate scale, John Paul Zaccarini demonstrates the power of illusion and mystery with his remarkable solo show “Throat,” receiving its American preem at New Haven, Conn.’s Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas.
Though arthousecentric, the narrative-free show by U.K.-basedCompany F.Z. (standing for director Flick Ferdinando and performer Zaccarini) has humor, charm and plenty of impressive physicality that should appeal to auds beyond that base. However, its less-than-one hour length might hamper its bookings beyond fest and college markets.
That’s too bad because Zaccarini is an extraordinarily appealing performer of depth, range and imagination. In “Throat,” he presents himself as a series of identity-shifting characters, all of whom are painfully out of sync with the rhythms of life, whether everyday housewives living tedious lives or disco stars pursuing the spotlight. All are looking for a purpose, a pitch and a place where they can live at peace.
But it never seems to come in this existential universe, where kneading dough is simply marking time, where life and television soap operas segue from one to another, where bouncing off the walls is not just a figure of speech.
Of slight but strong build, Zaccarini is a persuasive presence, a beguiling chameleon who can morph from a character in a kimono and do-rag to a slick disco singer in search of a song to an Everyman at the end of his rope, literally as well as figuratively.
Zaccarini is onstage as the audience enters, mindlessly working his flour-and-water mixture while exploring his reflection in the mirror. Show begins as his drifting mind returns to the task at hand and he sees (as do we) the shape of a baby in his dough creation, in need of cradling, burping and diapering.
The silent and sexually ambiguous character becomes more animated and verbal as he then turns his attention to the TV on the opposite side of the stage. He becomes emotionally involved in a series of international TV soaps, taking on the over-the-top angst and accents of characters of both genders. In one scene, he gets drunk, but finds no delight, just a dance of staggering doom. Another bit has him rehearsing ways to say “Thank you” or “Stop it,” never quite getting it right. Gradually he emerges as a contemporary Beckett clown: an eternally restless figure in search of the perfect pose, rhythms and words that, like Godot, never quite arrive.
The last third of the show turns surreal, lyrical and strangely felt. Returning to his dough, he finds it oozing blood; the stage floor begins to flood; a rope descends. Stripped to his underwear and now covered in flour, water and goo, he begins to climb the rope as it starts to rain. Finding himself in a Sisyphean labor, he finally falls to the ground.
But the clown won’t end the evening on such a note of despair, going instead for a gag reflex. In the last moments of the show, Zaccarini pokes his head from behind the curtain to speak to the aud as his exhausted, wet and offstage self, telling them that the show was just a song-and-dance, simply offering a bit of a laugh. “Nothing deep,” he says of “Throat.” “Or profound.” Others might disagree.