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Theater review: Imago Theatre's 'ZooZoo' worth seeing again and again

Imago Theatre
The Oregonian

By Richard Wattenberg

If you're looking for a show that will delight the young at heart, aged 3 300, you can't do better than Imago Theatre's "ZooZoo." Including the best of "Frogz," the company's signature piece, and its sequel, "Biglittlethings," the current production will introduce or reintroduce you to Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad's magical menagerie of furry, feathered, flying and fantastical critters that have entertained Portland for years and have recently returned from a successful run at Broadway's New Victory Theatre.

All the familiar creatures are back: insomnia-prone, restlessly sleeping hippos; lumbering but surprisingly cuddly polar bears; clumsily waddling, overly competitive penguins; fancy-restaurant-patronizing anteaters; slithering snakes; lethargic frogs; frisky rabbits. The evening consists of a series of short vignettes. None is too long for the shortest attention span, and each is skillfully shaped to feel complete.

This is mask and mime theater at its best. Imaginatively choreographed, the sometimes synchronized, sometimes acrobatic and always wonderfully wacky stage happenings keep us smiling. Without a word of dialogue, the talented company of six performers takes us into the enchanting worlds of these playfully conceived, surprisingly human animals. Triffle and Mouawad, with Mark Forrest and Cati Thomas, have fabricated whimsically appearing creatures that the performers have given unique identities. Every gesture, every movement -- whether it be simply nodding or turning the head, hopping forward or slinking into a chair -- is saturated with eccentric personality and humor. This is true even as the performers slip across the footlights and wander and revel among laughing audience members.

Some of the most fun bits of the evening are solo pieces such as "Paper Bag" and "Larvabatic."  Both are simple but entrancing. In the first, we see a large brown paper bag bobbing and dancing about stage, looking something like an empty brown lunch bag blowing in the wind. Given the mysterious meowing emanating from within, we can't help but quickly catch on that there's more here than meets the eye. In the second solo, a larva-like creature demonstrates its peculiar gymnastic skills -- skills that appear to test the limits of gravity.

During the evening's last piece, "Paper," the performers are fittingly unmasked. Perhaps this piece is a metaphor for the way in which artists inevitably, and maybe even inadvertently, reveal themselves in their works. Regardless, it's a lighthearted piece that gives the audience -- both young and old -- an opportunity to see and applaud the performers who have entertained us for 90 minutes.

The actors are well supported by Katie Griesar's upbeat, quirky circus-like original music and Jeff Forbes' colorful, atmospheric lighting. Artful as well as entertaining, "ZooZoo" is fine family theater fare. It certainly is a show that anyone can enjoy seeing again and again.