Mask-and-mime troupe — wacky, whimsical, offbeat

“Mummenschanz” is an offbeat yet graceful show filled with wackiness and whimsy. 

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve seen “Mummenschanz” (not quite the 42 years the Swiss mask-theater troupe’s been touring the globe).

But I almost screwed up.

I missed the mime quartet’s early November appearance at the Marin Center, so I had to travel across the pond to Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall for a Cal Performances show subtitled “The Musicians of Silence.”

It was worth the journey.

I found their previously wacky, whimsical and offbeat antics as wacky, whimsical and offbeat as ever.

Not as wondrous as my initial exposure, maybe, but close. I’d call it semi-wondrous, and say, for argument’s sake, 97 percent as good.

The foursome is still concocting imaginative (sometimes weird) animals as well as brightly colored and creatively lighted faces, shapes and body parts.

Out of toilet paper, inflatable materials, foam, and recycled junk.

Old favorites such as giant, gymnastic Slinkys; huge gloved hands that open the show; clay masks that turn into an entire menagerie.

And new favorites (or at least bits I haven’t seen before) like two long, glowing sticks that become humans and snakes, or a graceful octopus whose waving tentacles are ballet-like.

All without words.

With zero musical accompaniment.

The unique two-woman, two-man team consists of a co-founder, Floriana Frassetto (who also directs the show), Sara Francesca Hermann, Oliver Pfulg and Giovanni Colombo.

Amazingly, Frassetto has appeared in each performance since the company’s Paris founding in 1972 (including a three--year stint on Broadway).

Like Barnum’s circus, the presentation can be enjoyed by “children of all ages.”

If there a minor flaw exists in the 80-minute show, it would be that several quickie sequences resemble others. And the audience participation numbers are weak.

Teeny kids probably enjoyed the show most.

When an oversized clam spit out a stuffed animal he’d chewed on, a boy in front of me squealed the obvious (but with unrestrained glee):

“He didn’t like it.”

When one construction called for a decapitation, another nearby lad shrieked, “Oooh, his head came off.”

And when spools morphed into a feathered critter, a little girl well behind me shouted in pure delight, “It’s a birdie. It’s a birdie.”

My wife, decades older than those children, had a somewhat calmer take as the performers bowed, showing their real faces for the first time:

“No matter how many times I see this, it’s still charming.”

She’s right, of course.

Unusual upcoming Cal Performances include “Ira Glass with Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass: Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” on Dec.12 and 13; “eighth blackbird: Hand Eye,“ on Dec. 14; and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan: Rice” on Jan. 22 and 23. Information: or (510) 642-9988.

Contact Woody Weingarten at or check out his blog at

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