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James & Jamesy in the Dark

There's a part of me that I can't see of me. — James
We can see more together than we can see on our lonesome.— Jamesy

James & Jamesy in the Dark
New Yorkers now have an opportunity to become acquainted with the British comedy team as they make their New York debut with James and Jamesy in the Dark at the Soho Playhouse. Mixing theatre, physical comedy, and dance, these latter-day clowns, embodied by Aaron Malkin (as James) and Alastair Knowles (as Jamesy), invite audiences to go on a magical journey of the imagination that shakes out Socrates old maxim: Know thyself.

There's no story-line per se. Just two strangers on stage, each with a chair, as they meet and explore the unknown. They introduce themselves as James and Jamesy, simply place their chairs, engage in some philosophical repartee, and exit.

Sound like a snooze? Not at all. James and Jamesy aren't your garden-variety strangers. They enter the dark stage wearing identical camel-colored suits and black headgear, each with a blazing searchlight attached in front. The searchlight is like a third eye, enabling James and Jamesy to see everything that catches their fancy on the twilight stage.

There's no pussyfooting around in this Beckett-like drama. After the protagonists seat themselves, they engage in a synchronized mime play of quotidian routines and turn them into mirror-images of each other. What starts out as a dumb show, quickly transforms into a play with potent language.

Ten minutes in James and Jamesy begin to make vocalizations, then words, and finally telegraphic speech. A discoursey emerges and blooms, and the big questions are asked. To wit: "Who are we?" and "Why are we here?"

If profound questions drive the piece, child-like play is what makes it tick. Consider the moment when James suddenly discovers he can't glimpse his entire body on his lonesome and remarks to Jamesy: "There's a part of me that I can't see of me." Playful as it sounds at first, the remark actually taps into deep psychological terrain. After all, wasn't it Shakespeare's Cassius who famously asked Brutus in Rome's public square if he can see his own face. Of course we all know the answer to Cassius' rhetorical question. And, similarly, we know why the child-like James and Jamesy are struggling with the same slippery truth. Yes, we all suffer from limited vision of ourselves and depend on others whom we trust to serve as our human mirrors.

During the second half of the play, James and Jamesy make a bold foray into the audience. For those who don't feel comfortable with audience-participation shows, no worries. Although the performers might temporarily put you in the spotlight when their illuminated headgear points in your direction, or they touch the tips of their fingers with yours, it seems that their real purpose for mingling with the audience is to remind you that theater isn't a passive experience. No matter which side of the footlights you occupy, a live theater performance requires actors and a responsive audience to make it meaningful.

While the audience-participation segment kept the audience alert and on their toes, the impromptu concert that James and Jamesy conduct from the stage is a more soulful experience as they temporarily morph into pseudo-maestros and lead the audience in a symphony that is accomplished not by concert-hall instruments but the collective exertion of everybody's vocal cords. They first model a menagerie of sounds ranging from a gust of wind to wild jungle roars. And then they simply urge us to do likewise. The result? Well, it's like listening to a Philip Glass' concert with selections from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book tossed in for good measure.

Malkin and Knowles have performed In the Dark throughout their native Canada, the United States, and the UK. This, their fifth performance piece, and can only add to their growing reputation as artists whose surreal work engages both the mind and heart. In partnership with David MacMurray Smith, this piece doesn't just cast new light on the concept of theater, but teaches some profound lessons on the mystery of being human.

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James & Jamesy in the Dark
Directed by David MacMurray Smith
Cast: Aaron Malkin (James), Alastair Knowles (Jamesy).
The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street.
Tickets: $ (212) 691-1555.
From 9/12/18; opening 9/16/18; closing 10/14/18.
Wednesday through Sunday @ 7pm; Saturday and Sunday Matinees @ 3pm.
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 9/13/18 .

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