REVIEW: Magical Exploding Boy (Next Theatre)

Transcending the need for words



Next Theatre presents
Magical Exploding Boy
Written and performed by Dean Evans
Next Theatre, Evanston
through April 3rd
(more info)

By Barry Eitel

For all those out there who are sick and tired of all the shows in Chicago filled with all those darn words in them, there is a production out there just for you. As part of their Dark Night Series, Next Theatre brings you Magical Exploding Boy, concocted by Dean Evans. And for those of us who enjoy vocabulary in our theatres, this wordless piece is still a wonderful time.

dean-suitcase Evans, ensemble member of The Neo-Futurists and Chicago Physical Theater, knows his miming. He studied at the School for Mime Theater at Kenyon College, and learned from master mimes Marcel Marceau and Stephen Niedzialkowsky. Magical Exploding Boy is his major piece, which he wrote and performs. He has taken the work to several theatres around the city over the past few years (as well as the Bahamas a few months ago). The fantastical one-man show integrates mime, clowning, props, great physical comedy, as well as more interpretive moments.

Considering the nature of the piece, it makes sense that Magical Exploding Boy doesn’t really follow much of a narrative arc. A lot of time is focused on a baby doll with removable limbs and several stock facial expressions. Like some sort of weird toy demon, the baby has the ability to take over part of Evans’ body. Sometimes the baby is mischievous, other times it’s a bit hornier. Evans takes on multiple personas in the piece. At one moment he is victim to the doll’s wishes, at another he plays both 4th Grade bully and wimp, later he is an amoeba, and he ends up in space dealing with botany experiments gone awry. These episodes follow each other pretty erratically; characters in one section don’t really relate to what just happened in the preceding story. It’s like flipping through channels late at night (when everything gets a bit stranger) – except Evans is the remote. The title of the work no doubt alludes to this—Evans “explodes” into these varied situations, and there is a fair amount of magic working in each little vignette.

dean-evans-dolphins2 It’s easier to plug into the funnier moments, like when Evans deals with the doll or when he beats himself up (and then defeats himself). When he is traveling in deep space or struggling underwater, it’s harder to relate. Evans’ performances are mesmerizing, but the length and depth in which he explores these scenes can drag the show down. They can also get confusing. Evans never loses sight, however. When he is underwater, he actually looks like a jellyfish or amoeba, and you earnestly believed that he is stuck alone in the far reaches of outer space. It’s really a matter of whether you are more into mimes or clowns.  (I guess I’m more on the goofy side.) And even though they might put you in a daze, the interpretive sections are dazzling and fun.

Evans is charming and inventive in his performance. The show, set on a more or less blank stage in front of a curtain, revolves totally around him; his charisma and personality drive the whole thing forward. His choice of props is both mundane and brilliant. They don’t take away from him at all but remain completely relatable. For example, at one point he has to throw away a tidbit of paper and he drags out a giant trashcan with ‘City of Evanston’ stamped on the front!

Although nothing is said, Evans envelops the nonverbal human experience, transcending the need for words. Although terms like “mimes” and “clowns” usually bring up ideas about lame street performers or wacky circus antics, Evans’ work reminds us that these are both established art forms with a ton to offer artistically. Magical Exploding Boy is a rare treat for a Chicago audience, a chance to see a trained physical actor perform without the crutch of words for a little over an hour.

Rating: ★★★