The Circle of Eleven production of “LEO” at the Clurman Theatre does on its stage what Einstein and great physicists have dreamt of for ages: to successfully break through the inter-space-time-continuum. In other words, find a way for one man to be in two places at the same time.
At first look, it’s strange to find a stage divided into two halves. On the left is a large white projector screen, while on the right, is a corner of a sliced cube. And right above the audience, parallel to the dissected prism, is what appears to be a camera.
Soon, the lights fade to black, a mysterious eerie beat rattles from one corner of the room to another before a blue aural light reveals a dapper man with a fedora and a suitcase. He arrives on the left side of the stage, propped upright on top of the vintage case, while on the opposite side of the very same stage he lies inside the cube’s floor with his feet raised with an identical suitcase underneath him.
Directed by Daniel Briere and choreographed by the celebrated modern dancer Juan Kruz Diaz de Garayo Esnaola and awarded the Best of Edinburgh Award by the Carol Tambour Theatrical Foundation, “LEO” stars Tobias Wegner in the unique one of a kind performance that lives up to the bill as a spellbinder that will move and stimulate the imagination.
The show rolls out slowly at the start as both Wegner and the audience sort things out. Wegner’s character figures out where he is [trapped inside a box with a lone flickering light bulb above his head] while you figure out the production trick—the camera takes the video of Wegner on the floor then rotates the feed at a right angle before the projector displays Wegner in an up-right off the floor position on screen. The show’s slow pace will be a bore at first, but not for long. Soon enough, it will quickly grab, the emotions attached to this man trapped inside a room develop a story more profound than meets the eye.
The absences of speech or soliloquy will take a second to adjust to, but it’s an easy one to make. The effortless ease to comprehend “LEO” through only Wegner’s body and facial expressions bring to mind classic Charlie Chaplin films and the more contemporary Michel Hazanavicius film “The Artist.” But the performance in this production is far more enjoyable because of the simple fact that it’s live. To watch the heroic physical efforts Wagner brings to the stage is without a question a million times better.
Wagner is a trained acrobatic who studied at the Belgium University of Contemporary Circus Arts. His career has taken him to Brazil, Spain, India. He has performed on prestigious stages such as the Southbank Centre in London, the Theatre de la Cite Internationale in Paris and the Schauspiel Frankfurt in Berlin. At the onset of “LEO,” he is dry and cool, but by night’s end, after every acrobatic feat imaginable, he is drenched with sweat from head to toe.
Combined with Wagner’s effort and the adroit tech-production schemes, “LEO” leaves the story open for interpretation. The show isn’t so much theatre but more of a parkour style ballet that feels as if it was a story about the journey from womb to life. Wagner’s character journeys from total ignorance, to discover his physical abilities, to then hone the powers of his imagination, all the while his suitcase nurtures him like an umbilical cord before he leaps through the case to his next adventure.
The surreal visual experience, Wagner’s herculean physical endurance and the literal bouncing-of-the-walls acrobatics, makes “LEO” like nothing else on or off Broadway.
Catch “LEO” for a limited engagement from Friday January 6 through Sunday, February 5, at The Clurman Theatre on Thetre Row (410 West 42nd Street).