Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

PRISONERS ON STAGE AND IN THE AUDIENCE

 

picture - Break OutTheater Review

by John Topping

published September 26, 2008

 

Break Out

now playing Off Broadway at the Union Square Theater

through October 12

 

For those who love impeccable theater of any kind, there is little to recommend for Break Out, an evening of “extreme dance comedy” created by the Korean production group SevenSense.  Novelty dance theater has become something of a trend the last decade or so, and Break Out is unlikely to be the world’s final offering of it.  Here, the dancers are skilled, but the creative team behind it, uh, not so much.  Fortunately for them (sort of) their target audience is the not overly critical under-10 set. 

 

So if you’re looking for a sophisticated evening of theater, this is already not the show for you.  But I’m not a snob about such things; I’m all for just plain fun for the sake of just plain fun.  Just make sure it’s well done and worth my time – from that standpoint, please feel free to accuse me of snobbery.  With that in mind, once I realized that I was not in any way the demographic for what I was seeing, I consciously removed any expectations of what I would personally find satisfying and intended merely to submit a report of what I'd seen, striving only to identify its audience and discern whether that demographic would think it worth $35 - $59 to attend.

 

Let’s explore the “comedy” part of the Extreme Dance Comedy equation.  Its sense of humor is silly, corny, family-friendly slapstick.  Except the comedy is rarely very funny.  The story – yes, a story has been contrived for the proceedings – is about a gang of prisoners who stage a breakout and the ensuing shenanigans as they are chased by the police.  (Actually following the tale is optional on the audience’s part;  like ballet, each scene is less important as story progression than as an occasion to dance.)  We first see the prisoners being led in calisthenics by the guards, which devolves into reasonably funny bits of slacking off every available moment that the guards aren’t watching, and then being caught in the act of loafing when they think the guards still aren’t watching.  One sad sack in particular gets caught time and again, bonked on the head, etc.  This is the high point of the comedic proceedings.   

 

The “extreme dance” part of the Extreme Dance Comedy equation, when it is at its best – which is not often enough, but there are undeniably some delightful moments to savor – is when the dancers (mercifully) break from any pretense of plot and exhibit pure, skilled, energetic and fairly amazing break dancing (are the Korean words for “break out” and “break dancing” equally similar, or just a happy translational accident?).  It’s hard not to be impressed when you see someone balancing one’s entire body on one hand in an unusually difficult pose, or rolling in semi-circles on one’s shoulders, or swinging one’s legs around one’s body for several revolutions without the legs ever touching the ground.  The stamina and control necessary for such gymnastics is breathtaking.  But to sustain this kind of intensity for over an hour would be too brutal on their bodies.  And so, much of the high-energy dancing is necessarily low-energy.  Not a bad thing in and of itself, but, unfortunately, the choreography is as uninspired as the comedy, and the short 75-minute evening seems endless.

 

Asian children (I saw no other category of children present at the performance I attended) were the most enthusiastic laughers, and it would have been a trip to sit in an audience where they were the majority, wherein every old routine could become new again.  But it didn’t take much time for the adult audience – even those who thought they were enjoying everything at first – to find the proceedings distinctly tiresome.  Even so, the kids that I could see from my seat remained rapt, mouths wide open in a huge smile in anticipation of the next shenanigan to be thrown at them as they desperately suppressed their giggles.  This disparity of tastes was fascinating.  So it is my duty to report that, for some children, anyway, it might be one of the most awesome New York experiences you will ever be able to give them.  For adults not towing kids, uh, not so much.

 

johntopping @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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