The name might throw you, but one look at the Swiss masked theater troupe and I guarantee you'll experience a flutter of familiarity.
Allow Kermit to spark your memory:
Now that you're overwhelmed with a strange sense of presque vu, let me explain. Mummenschanz is part mime, part pop art in motion, combining surreal costumery with simple choreography in a performance style all its own. Founded by a trio of European artists in 1972, the group were the mummers of the moment in the late 1970s, appealing to audiences who loved The Muppet Show as much as they admired Jacques Lecoq. Perhaps you caught a few of the troupe's cameos on the PBS children's show "3-2-1 Contact", or maybe you faintly remember seeing their appearance on "Northern Exposure" in the 1990s. Either way, I bet Mummenschanz infiltrated your conscience at some point, awing you like it did me with their full-body puppetry and silent absurdities on stage.
It's been 40 years since the birth of Mummenschanz, and the iconic mimes -- Floriana Frassetto, Philipp Egli, Raffaella Mattioli and Petro Montandon -- are celebrating the anniversary with a "best of" tour, which landed in New York City earlier this week. I had the pleasure of attending the two-hour long performance with a friend, both of us having been introduced to the wonder that is Mummenschanz when we were kids. As adults, the experience of seeing anthropomorphic slinkies and giant, animated thumbs was similar to what I imagine it would feel like had I the chance to re-watch a disjointed dream of my five year old self. Equally mesmerizing as it was confusing, skit after skit propelled the show forward with a host of characters that made us smile, scratch our heads, and laugh out loud; usually in that order.
Looking around the audience, that seemed to be the general response from the impressively varied crowd seated around us. There were just as many children as there were well-dressed college students, elderly couples, theater enthusiasts, and members of the press, all gathering to create a motley crew of once and future Mummenschanz fans. The children, who I assume were laying eyes on the mummers for the first time, screamed and giggled from the start, letting the adults know that there would be no barrier between performers and audience members. "Behind you!" they screamed at Mummenschanz-ers when one performer would creep out from backstage. They were utterly elated and every "Eww!" and "Ahh!" made me love the show just as much as they did.
If you're not already taking a trip down memory lane via YouTube, I highly recommend you do so now. I can attempt to give you a rundown of the performance (see the slideshow below), but there's really no good way to explain the oddness of the Swiss mimes; they must be seen to be experienced. Catch a performance as the troupe makes its way across the US in the months to come.
Mummenschanz will be performing limited NYC engagements until January 6th, 2013.