A heady mix of physicality, music, and morose humor, The Whistling Mortician is a delightful experience recommended for anyone nostalgic for Buster Keaton and genuinely witty, well-performed theater; a priority among the IATI Theater‘s Performing Arts Marathon line-up.
The titular whistler borrows his name, Froehlich, from the performer portraying him. Living in Germany during the 1870s, he’s enlisted to morgue detail during the Franco-Prussian War and then stationed in a tumultuous Alsace-Lorraine. Froehlich stumbles and cartwheels his way across the world from there, whistling the French National Anthem all the way. The audience is quickly infatuated with the protagonist, who is portrayed not just as a naive manchild habitually on the wrong side of the law, but as a fan of distinguished music, a hard-worker, and good company to the underprivileged. Froehlich is the physicality of Charlie Chaplin with the sensibility of Harpo Marx. His acrobatic talent is supported by an incredible cast playing multiple roles with diverse and distinct physical expression. While most of the characters Froehlich encounters are either authority figures in over-sized helmets or fellow outcasts such as subjugated citizens and immigrants, the cast characterizes them all so strongly and entertainingly that the experience rarely becomes repetitive. The show, though continuously driven forward by the antics of Froehlich, still finds time to pause and ponder the presence of death, watching him slowly bury the bodies of fallen soldiers or wander a church cemetery. This alternation between staccato comedy and contemplative vignette allows the audience time to breathe and absorb, keeping the pacing steady and action fresh.
Kathleen Purcell’s lighting is warm and full, influenced largely by dance theater and appropriate for the space-encompassing motion of a show that’ll just as soon run into the house as cartwheel across the stage. The soundtrack – familiar classical German compositions - facilitates the choreography and scene transitions, punctuated with moments of silence. The amazing physicality and presence of the performers keeps viewers enervated long after the curtain call. The Whistling Mortician should be near the top of the list for any theater-goer looking for smart and well-crafted physical theater, none-the-less Marx Brothers or Chaplin aficionados.
The Whistling Mortician is playing at the Baruch Performing Arts Center as part of the Performing Arts Marathon 2012, presented by IATI Theater
Sunday, August 5th at 3:00pm
Thursday, August 9th at 7:00pm
- Written by Shane Reader