"What exactly is it that this group does?" asked a companion before Friday night's performance of "Decodanz: The Dilemma of Desmodus and Diphylla" by the Margolis Brown Adaptors. "Well, they're trained in classical mime, but they also use dance and music and film and video and incredible props and ... " There was no point in describing the work of this brilliant New York-based troupe -- you just had to experience it for yourself.
The show begins. On a stage crammed with lights, monitors and microphones and hung with a musty black velvet curtain, a rather crazed-looking fellow in a worn tux passionately embraces a television set illuminated by the image of two hands playing a violin. Lusty Gypsy music washes over Mount Vernon College's Hand Chapel; the man swoons and cradles the box even tighter. Next appears a black-tressed, heavily made-up vamp in vintage black lounging attire. Placing a red rubber ball against a tall pillar, and her torso against the ball, she proceeds to roll said prop about her body until she is undulating orgiastically.
These are our first encounters with Desmodus (Tony Brown) and Diphylla (Kari Margolis), a pair of intense and hilariously unhinged vampires attempting to relate to one another by sucking up a host of cinematic and other pop cultural images and taking on guise after guise. They appear on their own little movie screen as Rudolph Valentino and his consort in an original, wacked-out version of "The Sheik," replete with histrionic gestures, old-fashioned titles and grainy black-and-white photography. A la Fred and Ginger, they trip the light fantastic about a battered red loveseat, their fangs gleaming. He dances with a manikin arm. They manipulate life-size dummies flirting in a sleazy cabaret in which a seedy comic lip-syncs to a soundtrack of stale jokes; Desmodus drinks the comic's blood, and immediately steps into the act.
Weaving in and out of this nonlinear, surrealistic scenario are three additional Adaptors (Stephan Geras, Carter Timmins, Christopher Eaves) who play a variety of parts -- bride and groom, nonsense-spouting detective, nightdress-clad lovelies maneuvering three shiny black LPs in a perfect unison dance. But it is Margolis and Brown -- the husband and wife who also conceive, choreograph and direct all of the Adaptors' productions -- who steal our hearts. At times their darkly daffy characters recall "The Addams Family's" Morticia and Gomez, and at others the denizens of Dr. Frank N. Furter's castle in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (the overall cinematic magic calls to mind both "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Pennies From Heaven").
Whether lighting up crumbling cigarettes, smearing each other's mouths with lipstick or engaging in verbal one-upmanship by calling out the names of movie stars, beer brands and cars, these two exhibit a technically impeccable and brazen style of performance. They can strike the elegant pose one minute, then contort their features and bodies and turn downright ugly. They also seem to be having a wonderful time on stage (and screen).
"Decodanz" is a marvel in other aspects as well. From the Gypsy violins and canned laughter to the video monitors spewing clips of movie kisses, gunfire and studio logos, the production unfolds like an intricate, well-oiled machine. Both technically and artistically, the Adaptors' work sets an impossibly high standard for all those toiling in the fields of multimedia performance.