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Jack Anderson

Gaff Aff

Zimmermann & de Perrot: "Gaff Aff"
Jerome Robbins Theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Clinton
May 4-8, 2010, at 8 p.m., $25.
Tickets: (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, May 7, 2010

Martin Zimmermann and Dimitri de Perrot in "Gaff Aff". Photo by Mario Del Curto.

Poor guy, he was constantly moving along, yet getting nowhere. So was the ground beneath his feet in "Gaff Aff," the ingenious absurdist movement-theater piece devised by the Swiss duo known as Zimmermann & de Perrot. "Gaff Aff," in Swiss-German slang, means "staring at a monkey," and the monkey here is surely Martin Zimmermann, an antic mime who soon discovers that the pressures of modern life are making a monkey out of him. While this hapless fellow blunders about, Dimitri de Perrot, stationed at the side of the stage, serves as a D.J., manipulating turntables and producing odd noises. The stage also gets in on the act. Very much so.

It's a circular stage filled with cardboard constructions, from which at the outset Zimmermann struggles to emerge. Parts of him do, at any rate: a limb here, another limb there. At last, he's fully in view, yet far from free. Wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, he's now caught up in the rat race of the business world, and there's really a race, for the stage revolves, apparently with a mind of its own, constantly stopping, starting, and changing speeds. Zimmermann just can't keep up with it. Sometimes he runs frantically; sometimes he totters. When he pauses and sets his briefcase down, the stage whirls it ahead, and he must race to catch up with it. Or he'll wait patiently until it circles back like luggage on an airport carousel.

Dimitri de Perrot in "Gaff Aff". Photo by Mario Del Curto.

The office worker Zimmermann appears to be portraying may have important tasks to perform, yet he's not indispensable, he's only one cog in a vast machine. Just how disposable he is becomes evident when he confronts a series of panels depicting men in identical business suits, all of these figures headless and presumably interchangeable.

Much of this thematic content is familiar from countless satiric movies, sketches, dances, and dramas justifiably decrying the stultifying influence of life in the corporate world. Parts of "Gaff Aff" might well be tightened. Yet mimes of any style do seem to share an inordinate fondness for repeating actions, as if they considered repetition an essential component of their art. Moreover, performers wishing to present a single work that is too long to fit conveniently into a mixed bill of short pieces may have a tendency to pad material to prevent audiences from complaining that they are not getting their money's worth.

Martin Zimmermann in "Gaff Aff". Photo by Mario Del Curto.

Although watching parts of "Gaff Aff" may make us think that we've seen stuff like this before, much of it still manages to look fresh, thanks to its creators' theatricality: that revolving stage, for instance, and several striking images. In one, for instance, a cardboard room opens up to reveal Zimmermann hanging upside down in one of its corners. And there's a startling sequence in which he suddenly leaves the stage and, eyes flashing manically, climbs his way into the audience and urges spectators to give the proceedings an ovation. Just as he has been manipulated by outside forces in his daily routines, so he now becomes an outside force for us, seeking to manipulate our responses. We are all staring monkeys stared at by other monkeys.


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