"Reading between the mimes" is how storyteller Jon Spelman dubbed his contribution to last night's presentation of "With Words and Without" at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Spelman, mime Craig Babcock and the Plexus Mime Theatre joined talents in a program that ran from the purely visual to the purely verbal. A full house responded with delight to this spellbinding me'lange.
Creating Bionic Man effects without the trickery of film, Craig Babcock used his fine instrument of a body to prove that in mime, detail and nuance are all. In his "American Portraits," Babcock employed this sleight-of-hand to portray types ranging from a midget cowboy to a harried car owner. Clearly, it is the down-on-his-luck little guy who perseveres that captures the essence of America for the terrifically gifted Babcock.
The South's answer to Marshall Dodge is Joe Spelman. Enchanting as the Florida Cracker, "Yancey Register," Spelman chronicled a family that rivaled Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha Snopeses for size and fascination. The Register repertory ranges from the fractured fairy-tale version of "My Gal Sal" to the amusing and touching "Grass Cape," a regional combination of "King Lear" and "Cinderella."
Juggling tennis rackets, scarves, paint brushes, baseball bats and tambourines, the Plexus Mime Theatre's "Kurlytov Family Cirkus" is a Russian vaudeville troupe run amok. The genius of Plexus is in working magic with simple props. Robert Morse's "Cordova Kurlytov" used a rubber chicken in a parody of Julia Child, as a Bolshoi ballerina and finally as a juggling prop. The pidgin Russian of the Cirkus made its contribution both "with words and without" in a most ingenious fashion.