Adaptors Movement Theatre
Performing Arts By Suzanne Levy

MONDAY, February 2, 1987 Washington Post 

Word that the Adaptors Movement Theatre was being presented by Kinetics Theatre in Ellicott City this weekend sent many in the Washington arts community northward once again to see this company in its signature work “Autobahn”. First seen in this area at the Baltimore Theatre Project in 1985, “Autobahn” has gone on to achieve critical acclaim as a seminal piece of theatre.

While one is able to identify influences on “Autobahn’s” parts, its sum emerges as unique. The  Adaptors fit into no easily definable category of performance as we know it.

Company artistic directors Kari Margolis and Tony Brown studied with Parisian mime Etienne Decroux and they are usually placed within the New Mime Movement along with other Decroux disciples. However, the Adaptors have pushed the boundaries of mime technique and borrowed heavily from almost every other performance tradition. They have incorporated speech, dance and video technology into their work, providing more than the usual justification for the term “total theatre.”

Margolis and Brown acknowledge German expressionist choreographer Pina Bausch as an influence, and their work does seem more visceral than that of other mimes. It is, however, set apart from Bausch’s vision by its commenting on culture with barbed satire rather than angst. One finds oneself convulsed with laughter at the same time chills are racing up the spine.

“Autobahn” is a series of 12 vignettes that serve as paradigmatic indictments of postwar culture. It is America as seen through the suburban back yard, through the glorification of astronauts by politicians and the media, through the cult of traditional femininity, through advertising and consumerism, and through the threat of nuclear war.

The Adaptors’ approach is to carry their material just past the point of reality—they continue past the point where traditional mime had aimed. The performers’ smiles are forced just beyond sitcom-land, and the sexuality is also slightly unreal—simultaneously wide-eyed and lascivious. Between episodes, the scenes are changed by scientists in lab coats and gas masks, suggesting that this cultural madness is being played out under a microscope, just another life form with its own peculiar behaviors.

While individuals have brilliant star turns—I am thinking particularly o Margolis’ erotic duet with a salon hair dryer, of Tony Brown’s nerd who evolves into a dictator, of Ed Alletto’s animated robot and of Frandu’s orgy with corn flakes—the  Adaptors’ use of the chorus is equally brilliant. In “Autobahn” the group functions as a classical Greek chorus commenting on the action, as a Rockettes chorus line dazzling with pattern and synchronization, and as a corps de ballet extending and multiplying the thematic material of the principals.
There is synchronized chorus of astronauts’ wives, of women manipulating irons and ironing boards and of men dancing with cutout dolls, of nylon-covered figures wearing inflatable rubber planes to become choreographed dive bombers, of underwear-clad vamps, of beauty parlor habitues proclaiming obeisance to traditional femininity, an of toy robots, lights twinkling and guns shooting, which advance menacingly toward the audience,  Even the gas-masked scientists do a two-dimensional dance vaguely reminiscent of Nijiinsky’s “Afternoon of the Faun.”

The entire company is startlingly wonderful, but Kari Margolis must be singled out as its brilliant comedian. Beautiful in repose, she is unafraid to make herself ugly, pathetic, ridiculous or clownish.
The question of the our: When will the Adaptors be presented in Washington?

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