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A CurtainUp Review
Marcel + The Art of Laughter

Just remember, you have your whole life behind you.—┬áMarcel
Marcello Magni and Jos Houben (photo by Gerry Goodstein).
Marcel + The Art of Laughter, the double bill Theater for a New Audience is presenting this season, is a study in contrasts. While Marcel is a mostly silent play performed by famed physical theater artists Jos Houben and Marcello Magni, The Art of Laughter is a monologue with movement, in which Houben explains exactly what makes us chuckle, giggle and roll in the aisles.

Although both shows have been presented individually, TFANA is the first theater to pair the two. In many ways this works quite well.

In Marcel, first performed at the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris, Marcel jumps over, ducks under and slides down a long curved ramp. Most of the time this results in lots of tripping, falling and smacking various parts of his body. Occasionally, Marcel's foibles involve a prop, such as an umbrella that refuses to behave. At one point he makes creative use of a crescent moon, turning it into a harp and a boat.

The ostensible reason for Marcel's shenanigans is that he's taking some kind of test Houben is administering. The audience is never told why he is taking the test or what will happen if he passes or fails. If you're not too exacting, this may not matter. In fact, many in the audience found Marcel breathtakingly funny.

For those of us who couldn't figure out what was so funny about Marcel, Houben attempted to provide the answer in The Art of Laughter. Man is vertical, Houben tells us, and when we lose our verticality because we trip or are too drunk to stand straight, we lose our dignity. Our reaction to people losing their dignity is laughter.

Of course, there are lots of variations on this theme, and Houben explores many of them: the fall followed by a recovery followed by another fall; the fall of one person followed by the fall of the guy who laughed at him; the fall complicated by various objects, such as tables and chairs.

Houben, who is Belgian, and Magni, who is Italian, met when they were studying physical theater with Jacques Leceq. Yet for those who remember Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy, there is something quite American about their humor. This is probably because slapstick has a unique language that does not entail words.

Some people find this language very funny. Some don't.

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Marcel + The Art of Laughter
By Jos Houben and Marcello Magni
Cast: Jos Houben and Marcello Magni
Scene and Costume Design: Oria Puppo
Lighting Design: Philippe Vialatte
Production Stage Manager: Paul Vella
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
Theater for a New Audience, Polonsky Arts Center, Brooklyn.
From 10/27/17; closing 11/19/17
Tickets: $90-$100
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 2, 2017

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