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Last Chanz

Mummenschanz (as we know it) makes a final tour before taking some time out to reinvent.

March 06, 1997|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Contrary to rumor--and advertisement--Mummenschanz is not on its final American tour, its co-creator says. But Mummenschanz as we know it probably won't be by this way again.

The Swiss mime-theater trio plans to retire the repertory it has been performing worldwide for the past 25 years. It's time for a change, said co-founder Bernie Schurch, and time to retreat to the studio to "spread around chaos and see what grows."

"Then the goal would be to come out with a new show in the fall of 1998," Schurch said. But "no, we haven't set up our funerals yet."

The troupe's "Parade," a 25-year retrospective now playing at Irvine Barclay Theatre, offers its beguiling mix of masks, puppetry, acrobatics, dance and mimicry, long enjoyed by adults and children alike. (The show's promoters recommend it for ages 5 and up.)

Remember the huge, fat-fingered white hands? The giant slinky? The courtship between two heads with toilet-paper rolls for eyes? Those delightfully anthropomorphic creatures and primordial blobs? And all of it in silence . . .

"We are a visual, theatrical group," Schurch said, "setting on stage abstract pictures that move and dance and jump around and take on feelings and emotions: love and hate and hunger and jealousy and greed."

But when its current European-American tour ends in May, the troupe, whose name combines the German words for "mask" and "chance," plans to fly home to Lugano, Schurch said from a recent Utah tour stop. Work will then resumed on an autobiographical video that begins with the attempt by Swiss compatriots Schurch and the late Andres Bossard, later joined by American-born Floriana Frassetto of Italy, to create a unique form of entertainment.

Plans also call for the trio--which now consists of Schurch, 52; Frassetto, 45, and American John Charles Murphy, 48--to set up its first real studio in an old slaughterhouse.

"We are not much head people, we are gut people; so the slaughterhouse is just right for us," said Schurch, whose enthusiasm, warmth and humor seems right in line with his life-affirming work.

Gutting the old repertory and devising something new will probably entail a year of "research for materials, stories, ideas and improvisation."

It will take courage too.

"Every artist wants to make it, and he has worked so hard and gone through so much hell that once he finds something that is his, it takes guts to drop it," Schurch said. "But we'd like that challenge. There is a wish to destroy what you have created in order to open up the space again in your mind. Otherwise, you are always clinging to the old."

So, what might audiences expect from the new show?

It's a bit premature to say, "but we have a kind of character to what we're doing, and it may shine through.

"I mean, I can't jump over my shadow. It would be an interesting feat to try, and we'd like to continue to go a step ahead, but you will still recognize Mummenschanz."

That means nonverbal theater; no text or words allowed. "Although we might be using sound," Schurch said.

"I might not be jumping as high, but it will be richer. I have accumulated much more experience, and my whole array of expressiveness has grown."

*

The field has grown too, but the searing success of such dynamic, technically deft companies as Stomp, Riverdance and Tap Dogs didn't figure in Mummenschanz's decision to regroup, Schurch said.

For one thing, ticket sales have remained strong, especially since the troupe announced last year that it would be hanging up its original work, Schurch said. For another, Mummenschanz offers something distinct from the newer groups.

"I love Stomp and Riverdance," he said. "They're all great, beautiful, and it's nothing but normal that the younger generation today comes out with such an energy-loaded performance.

"But obviously there is a need in our noisy lives to step into a place where it is silent. And audiences love to be considered individuals, and no one in our audience has to follow a plot or a thread. It's a picture book that you look into at your leisure. You take what you want and develop your own associations and fantasies."

BE THERE

Mummenschanz continues at Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive. 8 p.m. today-Sat.,

4 p.m. Sun. (The Sunday performance is sold out.) $16-$24. (714) 854-4646.

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