By Sean Patrick
The Ensemble of ‘One Twig at a Time’ photo credit to Tim Fuller.
“As I laughed alongside the hijinks of this world, I was charmed by the purity of the characters’ reactions as they’re pulled into relationship with self, each other, and even the simple objects which became characters of their own.”
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned as a child; now that I’m grown, IT’S TIME TO PICK BACK UP CHILDISH THINGS” — this author’s take on 1 Corinthians 13:11
One Twig at a Time, the latest creation by Wolfe Bowart, is a tour de force of old-world whimsy, visual poetry, and mischievous tricks and shenanigans. Set around an outdoor cafe, beautifully designed and crafted from old shipping crates from bygone Bowart productions, we are transported to a town square that could easily be in 1930s-60s France, Italy, or Spain: the perfect vantage point for the audience to ogle at the quirky and spunky inhabitants, both animal and human, that call the square home. Through feats of juggling, acrobatics, dance, puppetry, sleight of hand, wonderfully-executed foley, and practical effects, we observe characters bustle through their community space in the daily machinations of their lives, at times in cheer-inducing synchronicity and chuckle-worthy chaos. A loose plot follows a newcomer stuck in the town, who much like we the audience, quickly accepts the quotidian zaniness of the plaza and settles in to make a home amidst the tomfoolery.
In this tidy 90-minute play, easily short enough for a family with small children to enjoy without struggle, Wolfe Bowart — the central character and clown extraordinaire — juggles a jumble of artistic skills. Bowart is known for his one-man shows, however as this piece unfolds, the elements of his bag of artistic tricks are shared generously with each of the five other members of his ensemble, allowing each to reach new heights as characters and as performers. It was a joy to watch his experience and guidance benefit this larger cast of Tucson actors, most of whom are at home in more traditional theatre.
In Bowart, the rest of the cast had a wonderful example to follow: a fine mastery of his deceptively simple, and hard to achieve, form of physical theatre. At this point, the style has settled and eased into his bones like an old Tuscan house sighing into its foundations.
Xochitl Martinez comes alive as Élodie, the assistant at the café, easily matching Bowart’s commanding presence onstage with her commitment to gesture, character, and a constant smile and twinkle in her eye. The duo share a wonderful chemistry from the first sequence to their shared curtain call. Carlisle Ellis is equally engaging, playing Mrs ConKleen. Ellis feels fully integrated into the setting of this town square, embodying the unabashed freedom inherent in being a town’s resident dog lady. Her portrayal seems to include a memory of the town square-past and an understanding of its future.
The rest of the cast pitches in wonderfully and with full commitment to support the visual gags, though understandably with varying mastery of a new form. In a style that is largely about specificity and efficiency of movement, I would encourage the cast to continue to watch Bowart’s tendency to hone and own each physical choice; oftentimes a single physical choice is stronger than 2 or 3 choices in the same beat, and reduces visual noise. The moments that worked best was when the ensemble cast focused on the star of the gag, not just with their eye lines, but with their energetic awareness. In a physical form, be careful of becoming trapped in the body. Indeed, good advice for any artists in the audience who could mime the skills on display with an eye to what might transfer to more traditional performance.
As I laughed alongside the hijinks of this world, I was charmed by the purity of the characters’ reactions as they’re pulled into relationship with self, each other, and even the simple objects which became characters of their own. The town radio, new-fangled espresso machine, table cloths, and cherished pets answered the question of what to do with a surplus of time — a scarcity nowadays — all fodder for the spontaneity and capriciousness and habitual action that as they stack on one another, one twig at a time, moment by moment, beat by beat… a local culture, community, and home is built. If the Greeks theorized that tragedy allowed for the catharsis for unexpressed sorrow, One Twig at a Time offers the catharsis of “play” — the willful setting aside of time to make a home for joy, connection, trial and error — for no greater purpose than the simple pleasure of it.
Adults and young families alike should set aside this time for play, and cartwheel to the theatre to see this zany, live-theatre equivalent of a Pixar short, or for the more senior audience members, a harkening to a Buster Keaton sketch. One Twig at a Time is the 90 minute respite from pretense and responsibility that all of us deserve now and then.
One Twig at a Time runs at The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons through April 30th. Tickets can be purchased online at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/one-twig or by calling the box office at 530-448-3300. The Scoundrel and Scamp Theatre is located in the Historic Y building at 738 N. 5th Ave., Suite 131.