“Mansion of Dust” at the Southern—A view

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by John Munger | 8/2/09 • Several weeks ago my annual Rabbit Show showcase at Bryant Lake Bowl featuring “Shows that Got Into The Fringe” was graced with the opening five minutes of Joseph and Sara Scrimshaw’s “Mansion of Dust.” Joseph does schtick in general, plus a phony French accent a bit better than Sara (whose accent is phony Swedish), and Sara dances quite a bit better than Joseph.

But accents, schtick, and dancing aside, both move with extraordinary comedic skill and both are able to go over the top while keeping their own cools. Of such stuff are well-deserved legendary Fringe reputations made. It’s a great combination.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

This extraordinarily clever and almost fairy-tale-like little story involves two professional immigrant dusters. Well there, we’re already onto non-stereotypic ground. Professional dusters. They wield feather dusters, and swiffers as well, to engage somewhat competitively in dusting a mansion where they have been hired. How the hell do you make a 35 – 40 minute tale out that?

Well, with ghosts, props that are not what they seem, loud noises and flashing lights, trolls, and the mystery of what a girl can do to get rid of a troll. Plus a 1930’s typewriter that receives messages from another dimension. Somehow this elaborate conglomeration resolves into a tangible story-line that leads along through a perceivable plot, elements of comedic war-of-the-sexes mixed with flirtation, and three or four set-piece dances for Sara, all woven fairly credibly into the situation.

I have to agree with one of the audience reviews (see Fringe website at fringefestival.org and click on “reviews”) that this show would work very well with children, certainly around ages 8 -11. It has that madcap quality.

I don’t want to narrate much plot because there are a lot of cute surprises I don’t want to give away. But as regards dance, Sara has gone mostly to her considerable background in several character-dance forms for this piece. She knows both Scottish and Ukrainian styles and both were evident in specific steps and patterns.

Scottish and Ukrainian? Well actually they mix well. There is an elegantly maintained upright torso floating effortlessly above flickering feet and legs. There is clear rhythmic engagement with the music contrasted with smooth arms and a calm demeanor. This in spite of the fact that one of the dances is accompanied live in a raucous manner that discloses a skill that I never knew Joseph had.

But Joseph himself is a mover of a skilled and particular sort. Not a trained classical dancer, he is an advanced variation on something like “physical theater” or perhaps “new clowning.” His particular ability is timing of gesture, from which he can draw delicious comedic impact. His sense of timing and his ability to understate within the context of raw farce is masterful. The opening duet, which depends heavily on carefully chosen small variations in the flicking of feather dusters, is endlessly inventive.

Still, there are holes in the story line. Some questions are left unresolved and too many new elements in this flamboyant pot-pourri get introduced too abruptly or left a bit unresolved, all in the hurly-burly of what’s going on. The result is that so much craft, so much inventiveness and so much theatrical skill somehow don’t all get into step and into full focus. This piece could perhaps be developed more.

But oh lordy, it’s fun.

NOTE: This blog does not reflect the opinions or policies of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Dance/USA, nor anyone other than the author. These are purely and utterly my own observations and views.

John Munger (jrmdance@aol.com) has been performing, teaching, choreographing, researching and writing about dance for about 40 years. He teaches at Zenon, day-jobs for Dance/USA, and still hasn’t gotten much of it right.

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