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Be

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Be
Photo courtesy of Mayumana.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the celebration of rhythm that is Be, the show by the Israeli performance group Mayumana that just opened at the Union Square Theatre, is that there's not a kitchen sink in sight. By the time this 90-minute sound-and-pound spectacle has run its course, with its dynamic 10-person performing troupe having elicited some form of music from several dozen eclectic sources, that would seem to be the ideal finale.

But no - perhaps it was thought to be just a little too like Stomp. Yet comparisons to that show, in which a team of superstar theatrical athletes finds music hidden in unexpected yet highly visible objects, haven't so bothered Be creator-directors Eylon Nuphar and Boaz Berman that they've set off in a wildly different direction. There are times, in fact, where their show almost revels in the similarities, if never moreso than when it transforms the same old "beating on garbage cans" into a stage-filling, multi-person duel where the cans, the lids, and the lights they conceal all become persuasive, percussive weapons.

Be
Photo by Ran Biran.
What Be lacks that shows like Stomp and Blue Man Group have sweating out their pores is a point of view. It's amazing how the coercion of unusual rhythms from commonplace places can unify an evening, or how blue bodysuits and face paint can make a show feel like considerably more than the sum of its exquisitely executed parts. Yet while there's no denying that the Mayumana men and women are a gifted, often magnetic group, there's not much more than their impressive talent holding the show together.

Aside from the garbage can number, other acts include: bouncing imaginary ping-pong balls in frying pans; what seems to be a table-slapping Shriners meeting minus the fezzes (but plus an alluring belly dancer); a handful of women spending several minutes thrusting their fists and legs against a series of steel periaktois, apparently rebelling against male oppression; an "underwater" sequence with the cast decked out in fluorescent wetsuits and flippers and mimicking fish; and, my personal favorite, an intricate group juggle performed on a completely dark stage with balls lit up from the inside.

Be
Photo courtesy of Mayumana.
Between all this and the wide array of aural and choreographic influences at play - martial arts, beatboxing, breakdancing, and flamenco are among the most visible, though I could swear one scene paid tribute to America in the Roaring '20s, with all the implied gin and jive - there's almost too much to assimilate without any discernible connective tissue. There's a vaguely sensual back-and-forth that repeatedly emerges between the men and the women, suggesting that maybe this is all intended as a symbolic look at mid-20s mating games. Then the next moment you'll be immersed in an audience-participation pullcord challenge, and you'll find yourself wondering if you were imagining a higher purpose in all of this.

Be
Photo by Ran Biran.
Be, however, is far from a bad time, though its entertainment value would hardly be lessened by trimming some numbers, or perhaps even excising entirely the climactic folk-music festival (with the full cast singing and playing guitars). Nor would it diminish the astounding abilities and stamina of the cast, or the excitement they derive from sprawling across Nizan Refaeli's techno-junkyard set beneath Eyal Tavori and Roy Milo's cyberpunk-concert lighting and releasing continuous jolts of high-voltage electricity. About all it would do is allow you to better focus on the people who are fueling and driving this show to a kinetic success it would never seem to have earned strictly on its own.


Be
Running Time: 90 minutes
Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street between Park Avenue and Irving Place
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Ticketmaster