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By Wendy Remington Bowie
I would be a little hard pressed to say which of us, me or my three year old, was more charmed by Imago Theater's ZooZoo at the New Victory Theatre. The evening was a blur of magic and spectacle and I think Samirah and I were equally amazed and enchanted.
ZooZoo is a series of short acts involving animals or other creatures created with gorgeous masks or body sized puppets. Most of the pieces involve animals, but there are also a variety of other creatures. The show begins with a thrilling array of glowing nighttime eyes which dance around the stage, and then glides into a spectacular, black light bird ballet. From there they bring us to the Arctic to tango with some polar bears; and then to leap with a trio of frogs, to a hysterical pair of anteaters, to a power play between a purely magical set of accordions, or to play inside a gigantic paper bag with a kitten. We sail from place to place, from creature to creature, and I was completely content to ride along wherever they took us. At times, they come into the audience, which was hysterical and exciting. The costumes and masks are detailed and clever and skillful and make a supremely theatrical spectacle.
The skill of the performers made the illusions of the creatures so complete it was completely immersing, but then the added fun of watching as an adult was trying to figure out how in the world they were being accomplished. Many times the point of view of the mask is not the performer's point of view and I was fascinated watching them create the illusion. Or, for example, watching the animal being presented, and remembering that a performer was actually performing upside down. They set up our expectations precisely and then delivered exactly the punchline I hoped for and expected, and the performance was exactly as satisfying as great clown and mask can be. And that was before the final piece, which I found as exciting as the finale of any fireworks show and perhaps among the more purely gratifying moments of theatre I have seen.
This was our first experience at the New Vic, and I found the environment there for kids to be superb. Everything is designed to make the experience comfortable for kids. However, this is a piece I would have definitely enjoyed even without a kid and there were a good number of unaccompanied adults. The excited outbursts of the children were so common and incorporated seamlessly as a part of the show that it just seemed appropriate that the adults join in. I found in that environment that I had no shame about volubly gasping or clapping with delight. For which I was grateful—there were moments so fun, I don't think I could have helped but giggle like a child.