In matters of whimsy, it’s best to have a modicum of taste, too. The latest family-friendly show from Portland, Ore.’s, Imago Theater avoids the cutes in “Frogz,” a simple, elegant work that embraces the joy of imagination for its own sake. There’s no heavy-handed message, no sense of the theatrically smug, no pandering to the kiddies or their handlers.
Instead, the lighter-than-air skits by the five performers are exercises in wit and wonder that evoke smiles, giggles and even open-mouthed awe.
This latest touring show from Imago — a frequent visitor to such kid-licious venues as New York’s New Victory Theater that’s making a pit stop at American Repertory Theater’s new black-box venue in Cambridge — asks its aud for something that’s quite rare in family entertainment. Show’s creators, Triffle and Mouawad (who also double on design and direction), seek patience, curiosity and attention to detail. In return, the theatrical rewards are abundant.
Take the opening title skit, where three amazingly costumed frogs simply appear in a row, crouching. Silent. Not moving. For a long time. When one makes the tiniest motion, the moment seems monumental. The staring contest is broken and the aud is hooked for the rest of the amphibian vaudeville. The glowing red-eyed alligators and lizards that follow are equally mesmerizing, as they slither and turn without agenda or narrative, and aud is transfixed by their menace and magic.
But it’s not all just happening at the zoo. Imago sees a world filled with whatizits, too. There is a giant baby and bizarre rolling orbs. There are the battling concertinas and a towering paper bag with a mysterious creature in it. Another strange animal has hands that are feet, or are they hands? Or both? Things aren’t always what they seem or what you think. Here even sloths can be the most diligent of workers.
Sometimes the bits evoke a kind of Mummen-shtick, such as the cowboy whose head is a screen on which scroll various drawn images. Invisible, black-clad performers working phosphorescent ectoplasmic strings in a Day-Glo dance seem Blue Light Man Groupish. While the five penguins playing musical chairs are delightful (no one does deadpan like a penguin) the skit does outlast its welcome, even with aud participation.
Katie Griesar’s music gives the sketches a sense of playful, Felliniesque mayhem. Jeff Forbes’ wondrous lighting is the principal scene-setter.
The transformative performers have personality to spare, even when we don’t know which end is up.