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The Tokyo Shock Boys

The Japanese have sent America cars and televisions --- and now a rambunctious comedy troupe called the Tokyo Shock Boys, a popular act on Japanese TV. The Shock Boys' ribald vaudeville, however well performed, will have limited Stateside appeal beyond curiosity seekers in the mood for lighthearted, daredevil antics and scatological humor. The minimally designed show relies on the nonstop physical comedy of Danna, Gyuzo, Nambu and Sango, who, with their flashy orange suits, punk wigs and shaved heads, look like a hip version of the Three Stooges. "Please laugh, we're risking our lives" is their motto, and the four strive to outdo one another in the nerve department while shocking the audience. Sango swallows lit and unlit cigarettes, Danna chews dry ice and exhales the resultant cloud, and Gyuzo makes a practice of chug-a-lugging bottles of supposedly real detergent.

Some pranks are humorous, some of the gross-out variety: Danna inhales milk, which then dribbles from his eyes. More than one Boy drops his pants to demonstrate low stunts that look highly uncomfortable.

As at perfs of our own Blue Man Group, which Tokyo Shock most closely resembles, spectators who sit nearest the stage do so at their peril (the first few rows are provided with parasols to protect them from debris). Some audience members are invited onstage, an experience that at least one woman, who ended up zip-locked in a gigantic plastic bag, seemed to find distressing.

What saves the show from either total silliness or complete turnoff is the cool expertise of the performers. Under Murray Pope’s fast-paced direction, the Boys control each moment with skill, bravado and an appealing tendency to laugh at both the audience and themselves. Music arranger Satoshi Nishikata, who stands upstage playing drums and punctuating the action with an intense rock sound, becomes part of the exuberant proceedings.

But in the end, one is hard-pressed to figure out exactly where the joke lies: With The Tokyo Shock Boys’ bizarre stunts, or on audiences paying to watch.

The Tokyo Shock Boys

NEW YORK

Production: An Arthur Cantor, Murray Pope and Shuji Shibata presentation, in association with Sonny Everett, William O'Boyle, Alan Shuster, Mitchell Maxwell and Tim Woods, of a performance in one act by the Tokyo Shock Boys. Directed by Murray Pope.

Creative: Music arranged by Satoshi Nishikata and Paul Jackson, directed by Jackson and performed by Nishikata. Opened Feb. 19, 1997, at the Minetta Lane Theater. Reviewed Feb. 15; 299 seats; $35 top. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

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