Friday, January 19, 2007

Bill Bowers at the Manitou Art Theater

A one-person autobiographical show is a tough sell if its subject is anything less than a household name.

But any shred of curiosity you feel will be rewarded a thousand-fold by Bill Bowers’ hilarious and poignant “It Goes Without Saying,” currently being produced at the Manitou Art Theater. I left the 80-minute show feeling as though I knew the acclaimed mime personally — and wishing I’d gotten to know him sooner.

There are three reasons for this. First, the diminutive Bowers is one of those bigger-than-life personalities whose aura you simply want to bask in: His energy seems boundless; his smile seems lit from within. Second, he’s a world-class performer, in whom tremendous physical discipline coexists with a total lack of inhibition. Finally, Bowers’ life — at least in the form it takes here — has had the kind of narrative thread that the more aimless among us are forced to admire even as we envy.

Only the first and last segments of “It Goes Without Saying” are silent, and both are symbolic. In the first, the series of invisible doors and windows he must navigate to reach the audience foreshadows the coming story's twists and turns. This is classic mime technique made artful by Bowers’ skill.

In the show’s last segment, the classic technique is expanded to tell a magical tale of a Montana farmer and the moon that has been Bowers’ spiritual companion since childhood. This was one of the highlights of “Under a Montana Moon,“ Bowers’ previous show at the Manitou Art Theater, but it’s even more beautiful when we have a deeper understanding of its creator.

In between, Bowers proves himself to be a skillful speaker as well — though movement is an integral part of every sketch.

The early sketches revolve around his Montana childhood. Silence came naturally to Bowers: “”I have been a mime since before I knew there was a word ‘mime,’” he says. The Montana of his youth was even emptier and quieter than the Montana of today. His father, who was probably clinically depressed, “could go for days without saying a word.”

Among the highlights here are his love of Barbie dolls and his discovery of high school drama club, “which I like to think of as gay Head Start.”

Like many gay actors, Bowers ends up in New York. He talks about his numerous appearances on “All My Children,” beginning with “the faceless creature in Dixie’s nightmare,” to seven years touring the country in rented cars as Slim Goodbody, America’s Health Hero, to two years as Zazu in the Broadway production of “The Lion King” — “I’m spray-painted blue and I have a bird stapled to my head” — which come to an abrupt end when one day when, as he puts it, “my hands explode.”

What anchors the humor is the nearness of pathos, as in a skit that begins with a young Bowers pretending to be figure skater Peggy Fleming and ends at his grandmother’s funeral. The most touching, even harrowing, segment is Bowers’ recounting of his partner Michael’s death from AIDS — but even here, Bowers never loses sight of comedy, as in his description of Michael’s four-foot-tall German mother, “straight from the Third Reich. … Inga mostly sits by the window, smoking and hating my guts.”

(Honest, it’s funny the way Bowers tells it.)

Connecting the segments are several recurring images, including the moon, the Heyokah — a type of Native American shaman — and the Trail of Tears, the infamous Nez Perce winter trek that passed through the area that would become Bowers’ boyhood home.

“It Goes Without Saying” is a unique and remarkable evening of theater.

Bowers will repeat the show today and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. He will also present a workshop in physical theater Saturday from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Workshop tickets are $25. All events are at Venue 515 at the Business of Art Center, 515 Manitou Avenue. Call 684-4729 or click here for more information.


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