With the demise of the old Red Skelton show, mime is an art that seems to have vanished from mainstream American consciousness. When thought of at all, it is often regarded as a form over which Europeans such as Marcel Marceau hold a monopoly. Those fortunate enough to have seen the performances of Bob Berky, a mime/clown, at Grace Church last weekend might have felt themselves privy to the rediscovery of mime as an American art. Berky's sampling of American types--a bird watcher, weekend athlete and harassed showerer--establishes him as an original of the first order.
Berky's movements are more finely nuanced than those of most dancers. He seems to know precisely how each muscle can serve him. Besides the usual range of bumping into nonexistent walls and pulling open stubborn doors, Berky displays his virtuosity by simultaneously peopling his stage with a whole range of characters within his solo body. He portrays both bird watcher and the birds that torment him; he conjures up the disdain of fitter athletes at the clumsiness of his weakling body. His view of the world is innocent enough to appeal strongly to adults. All his creations are put-upon losers who will not give up trying even as life kicks them in the teeth.
If Berky has a secret weapon as a performer, it is rapport with his audience. Incorporating their responses into his act, Berky brings an improvisational freshness to his material. He has the quick-on-his-feet comedic responses of a Johnny Carson. With light-bulb nose, battered top hat and kazoo-like quacking voice, Berky's clown woos a burly audience member to prance in a tutu and a young woman to blow futilely into a balloon.
Berky's repertory of comic invention seems limitless. His wit and energy make him a leader in American mime and could help inspire a renaissance of interest in the form.