Review: In ‘Skin,’ More Than Words and Sometimes Less | Modern Society of USA

Review: In ‘Skin,’ More Than Words and Sometimes Less

Review: In ‘Skin,’ More Than Words and Sometimes Less

There are 43 muscles in the human face and you can count most of them during “Skin,” a sometimes absorbing and sometimes irritating evening of cast-created vignettes, performed by the wildly expressive members of Broken Box Mime Theater at A.R.T./ New York Theaters. A company dedicated to giving a new wordless spin on an old wordless form, Broken Box skips walking against the wind and trapped in a box in favor of pop culture capers and #MeToo inspired riffs.

In the first vignette, “Boys Syde,” five guys become members of a boy band, who perform a wordless dance routine and then burst into solos: break dancing, tap dancing, hula hooping. Joél Pérez (“Fun Home”) begins a striptease and then continues it, miming splitting his skull and clambering out of his skin, which he then tosses to the crowd.

So no, this isn’t the suspenders-and-beret style of mime, though the performers do all wear the characteristic oval of white makeup, with blacked brows, blacked lips and each eye quartered by three black lines. The mask gives the actors a kind of uniformity and anonymity though one of the stated goals of “Skin,” which the artistic director Becky Baumwoll discusses in a brief program note, is “decentralizing white normative discourse.”

That’s worth high-fiving, but these mimes already have their hands full telling stories without benefit of words, costumes, sound effects or props. (A few large blocks are a slight cheat.) The simpler, goofier sections are a treat, like “Lake,” a quick and fully clothed ode to skinny dipping or “16th Annual Brooklyn Beard Awards,” which is weird and hirsute fun.

But the weightier sections are confusing and often hollow. If the program hadn’t told me that “Fall From Grace” was about a father and son, I don’t think I would have guessed. I probably would have clocked that as the program says, it “intersperses realistic narratives with explorations of vertical space,” but that’s not really a compliment. In “Hashtag,” a piece about consent, it’s unclear what’s happening when. The actors here spend a lot of time doing everyday activities — mime calling cards like showering, toothbrushing — that made me long for the abstraction of dance or the greater specificity of an actual toothbrush.

These sections and others feel heavy and solipsistic, more about the performers celebrating what they could accomplish through mime (see, not just for walking down pretend stairs anymore!) and less about nuanced explorations of the topics at hand. But when they strut their skills more playfully, their techniques are a wonder. Blake Habermann, Ms. Baumwoll and newcomer Regan Sims are almost impossibly emotive, threatening to crack their pancake makeup with the force of their smiles and frowns.

Mr. Habermann doesn’t even need his face, just one hand making the metal sign, to embody Broken Box’s breakout sensation, Snail Cop. Snail Cop stars in the evening’s highlight, “Coming This Fall,” a preview of a police procedural about a tough-as-calcium-carbonate gastropod and his happy-go-lucky human partner. Sometimes there are no words.

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