Performing Arts: Theater
April 27, 2014
Mary Rose Lloyd, Programming Director at the New Victory Theater, is known for her ability to discover and produce unique, unconventional, and most often, international groups to perform for children, families, and school groups each season. Fluff, A Story of Lost Toys, originating from Australia, is one of these imaginative, witty, and sensitive performance art stories aimed at a young audience, ages 5 and up.

Christine Johnston, performer, creator, set designer, and film maker has collaborated with two other gifted artists: Peter Nelson, performer and composer, and Lisa O’Neill, performer, choreographer, in this 55 minute three person romp, investigating the histories of abandoned toys and their eventual “foster family, ” The Ginghams. This family journeys around the world retrieving lost toys, welcoming them into their home, and eventually putting them to bed where they are safely protected. Johnston has chosen an esoteric theme for this story, but one that does not escape the wonderings of children all over the world…what does happen to toys that are somehow lost or discarded? Where do they go? What is their history?

When entering the theater, the stage is visible with curtains open and the set revealed. We see a black and white gingham framed stage with life-sized cut-outs of a man on one side and two women on the other. There are several small toy beds lined side by side along the downstage lip, with nightlights lit beside each. A large building block type set is in the back with shelves of many toys displayed and Christmas tree lights draped in an abstract form of a tree, and a video screen centered in the middle.

Mr. Gingham enters through his cutout opening to player piano music. He cleans the space with a dust buster, and demonstrates various other adult “toys” to the audience, a microphone, ipad, piano keyboard, as well as his own talent at recording live sound into the ipad, which is later used in the show. He also dances and introduces himself through his cavorting.

The two Gingham ladies appear on the video screen, searching various world locations for toys while pushing a makeshift stroller basket cart, eventually entering the stage live through their cutout shapes, wearing long 19th century type Gingham dresses, with the cart overflowing with found toys.

The three quirky characters sing, dance, and perform to original and classic pop songs, like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ Spanish Flea, as they develop the story and engage the audience to participate in their research on each toy’s story. Imaginative photo and video sequences tell the poignant tales of each lost or abandoned toy: “Flatsie,” “Squibbly,” “Woodsie,” “Fluff,” “Joy,” “Scarey Cheeks,” “Disco Frog,” “Coco,” “Chicken Maria,” and “Humpty Hot Pants.”

Johnston’s knack for making many sound effects and animal calls, aligned with Nelson’s ability to manipulate the sounds onstage with his computer, and O’Neill’s quick witted dancing and quirky facial expressions bring non verbal expression to each toy’s identity. Johnston also enters the audience with the microphone asking the children to make animal sounds which are then recorded and used in a playback mix as the piece culminates with an elaborate finale using each toy’s sound and movement exploration.

The story ends with a delightful effort at putting all the toys to sleep, with some recalcitrant sleepers delaying the effort, the audience fully engaged in the knowledge of how difficult it is to turn out the lights with all asleep in the end.

In the end, Johnston entreats the young audience to help her with the task of quieting the toys, covering them all with their tiny gingham blankets, singing a lullaby, and finally leaving the stage through the cut-out shapes, when the lights go out.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mary Seidman

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