So it was the old deja vu when the clown troupe from Leningrad known as Litsedei (The Jesters) came mincing onstage last night in the opening bill of the 18-day Movement Theatre International Festival in Hopkinson Hall of the International House.
I frankly prefer the Russian clowns to the kind one usually sees in domestic circuses and children's wards, the one-trick wonders who tend to be more frightening than funny. The Litsedei obviously work very hard to perfect their art, and in addition to being devilishly comical they are all poets under the skin.
I counted nine separate sequences (not counting the encore) in their 75- minute performance, and more of them than not qualify as affecting comments on the human condition. The most memorable of these is a one-man skit (the clowns aren't identified by name) involving two telephones delightfully concocted of an inflated rubberized material. The clown alternately talks into one of them in a kind of nattering male voice, and into the other in a cutesy falsetto, and of course it develops that he is carrying on a conversation with
himself. His two personas begin the colloquy in loving terms, have a spat, finally make up. When the call is finished, he returns to playing desultorily with a balloon, again as lonesome as he was at the start.
Seventy-five uninterrupted minutes is an awfully long time to spend with clowns, even seven inordinately talented ones, and the Litsedei wipe out the creeping ennui with a fantastically jubilant finale that has the crowd on its feet - literally - batting around a couple of dozen oversized beach balls and a pair of gigantic cloth-covered balloons that descend on it as majestically as dirigibles.
The opener on the bill, master mime Robert Shields, formerly of Shields and Yarnall, comes to us initially in a filmed prologue, hilarious footage of his improvisations upon the reactions of the frequenters of a public park.
Shields in person, an extraordinarily agile acrobat and master of body control, intersperses the universal shtiks we have come to expect of mimes with brilliant new material, using sound effects and voiceovers of his own creation. I particularly liked his "Radio Station of Your Mind," in which he lip-synchs the chaos resulting from a rapid spin of the dial. So confident is Shields of his powers that he can drop the self-directed dig, "Has anyone ever said, 'I gotta go out and see a mime'?"
Shields will make only one other appearance in the festival, tomorrow at 8 p.m. Litsedei is scheduled for eight more performances. Information: 382-0600.