Damn those cute bastards of TheatreRUN all to hell. Damn them up and down, left and right: damn those Swiss/Canadian/English/American artists for having all the fun. This one-and- a-half-year-old traveling company has come to ConWorks with Russian Doll. It's a fun bit of physical theater--imaginative and artsy, but not alienatingly so. They met at the très international Lecoq School in Paris, where they studied clownery, mimicry, and the bare bones of comedy and tragedy--what makes a scene funny or touching whether you're from Rwanda or Japan.

And that's the problem--these good-looking youngsters do their magical thing from Paris to New York, casting eccentric flowers on the rain-stained sidewalks. They spell theater with an "-re." I imagine they sweat rosewater during rehearsals and retire to a tastefully bohemian apartment, where they get blissfully stoned and host sweet, sweet commedias dell'orgy. (Put that one in your press release, kids!)

How nice, in these dark days of conservative conquest, to be an itinerant artist and not a mere terrestrial being, hunching over a keyboard in dorky socks, pawing through the notes I take when interviewing my betters. Because they needed the PR, they agreed to pretend, for 45 minutes, that I was a person worth talking to.

We began with a rousing round of Celebrity Rorschach, a game I invented on the spot, in which the company would hear me say five words and then blurt out the first word that came to their minds:

"Boot," I said. "Camp," one replied.

"Leaf." "Rolling."

"Rubber." "Glove."

"Bulb." "-ous."

"Frankie." "Johnny."

My one novel idea exhausted, I asked them about Russian Doll. It's a series of stories, told with minimal props and maximal beauty, "but not abstract or dancey." Each of the three tales happens in a successively bigger space on the stage. The first features a young, vaguely Russian woman who immigrates to America and sets up a doll factory. The ensemble elaborates the three-act tale in a 172-inch by 10-foot rectangle, with nothing more than their bodies, some rope, and shiny tools. The next story concerns office workers trapped in a dull cycle of the mundane. The boss somehow falls out of the loop and begins pulling coworkers from their comfortable repetition. The third story is about a guy running through his own memory, and occupies the biggest area of the stage--the inner life, performed in the biggest space. See? These guys get it.

TheatreRUN's first show (Horror Vacui) had its premiere in a Paris geriatric ward, and the audience wandered around, shouted, and pissed themselves during the show. An ancient lady in the crowd declared: "If I don't die soon, I'd like to see what that company does next."

This is your chance to see what that morbid old Frenchwoman is missing.


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