The only word uttered on stage was a single “hello” all night. Luckily, the physics-defying acrobatics of “LEO” spoke for itself.
Loeb Playhouse was host Thursday night, and will be host three more times this week, to French acrobat William Bonnet and Canadian director Daniel Brière on their first American tour of the performance art piece “LEO.” The one-man, hourlong show exhausts, in the most entertaining ways possible, the many things a single actor can do with three walls and and a simple shift in perspective.
A projector screen showed Bonnet flipped 90 degrees from his real self. When Bonnet would lay on the ground with his feet against the wall, his projected doppelgänger would be standing up-right on a floor. This set up opened such possibilities as making a bowler hat behave like a boomerang when thrown.
A chance viewing at a festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, led Purdue Convocations Director Todd Wetzel on a multi-year quest to bring the show to Purdue.
“’LEO’ truly speaks to the inner-child,” Wetzel said. “Which is shorthand for saying it causes you to leave your preconceptions and cynical views behind and simply roll with your willing suspension of disbelief.”
Wetzel also made a classic case for “seeing is believing.” Taking someone’s word on it isn’t enough.
“It’s is a physical theater piece,” he said. “What does that mean? It means that the actor is using only movement to communicate, not words or text.”
Words really cannot fully describe the show. By their laughter alone, audience members clearly had just as much fun knowing the man on the screen wasn’t real as they would if the actor really was levitating.
Choreographing his moments from the stage to the screen was just Bonnet’s most obvious talent Thursday night. He drew sideways tables with chalk on the wall and then “climbed” on them by scaling that wall. Skits like that showcased his intense muscular control and stamina; no one doubted that Bonnet was a circus performer in his past. When Bonnet picked a direction to face and planted himself, there was no telling which was “normal.” He could hold any pose.
Because of the dual nature of the performance, a repeat viewing is recommendable. Many of the motions which look physically impossible on the screen will look just as hilarious, but in a different light, when focusing on Bonnet himself. Imagine a man simply rolling on a floor but acting like it’s the wildest dream of his life; Bonnet’s reactions were always to the perspective on the screen. Lafayette resident Gloria Lolkema wondered about not just what she saw, but what he meant.
“His performance emotionally made it,” Lolkema said. “You just are blown away by what you see him do, and then, even after that, he can change the entire mood of the piece in a perfect way along with the soundtrack ... He’s anxious and running, looking claustrophobic, next thing he’s relaxed, (taking) a swim.”
A matinée performance at 3 p.m. today means that many students will have a chance to catch the performance in between classes – likely the fastest feeling hour they’ll experience all day.