Seen And Heard January 16, 2012

Seen Off Broadway: Chasing away the wintertime blues is Leo, a delightful production from Berlin’s Circle of Eleven, which after an award-winning stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last summer is now on Theatre Row through February 5. Tobias Wegner conceived this good-humored blend of athleticism and technology, and he gives a beautifully calibrated performance as a man quite literally boxed in by life. On one half of the split stage, we observe him in his routine, in his little room, performing various actions with admirable precision. On the other half, however, is a live projection of the room that has been rotated 90 degrees clockwise, so that one of its walls is now the floor. Needless to say everything is off-kilter for our protagonist, who remains as unflappable as possible given his gravity-defying circumstances.

Wegner, director Daniel Brière, and choreographer Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola have executed this simple, witty concept with great skill, as the man (who recalls Buster Keaton in his everyman costume by Heather McCrimmon) constantly adjusts to this new normal while seeking some measure of relief from his circumstances. The phrase “climbing the walls” takes on new meaning as Wegner does just that on the screen, and there are many amusing flyaway gags of this sort, involving his hat and suitcase and other props on the spartan, almost Beckettian stage, which is designed and illuminated by Flavia Hevia. Just when you think the 70-minute piece may be winding down the collaborators throw new curves at you, by layering in unexpected segments of video animation (marvelously accomplished by Ingo Panke), which add a new dimension to the man’s plight.

The beauty of Leo is that the technical and performance elements have been blended together so seamlessly. You don’t want to miss anything transpiring in the video environment (a perfect creation by Heiko Kalmbach) but it is Wegner’s acting and acrobatic skill that brings the show to life. He doesn’t speak a word, but Leo has a few things to say about the follies and forbearance of humankind in a world gone topsy-turvy.

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