Telluride Inside… and Out: Bowers in "Beyond Words" at NYC's Urban Stages

Telluride Inside… and Out: Bowers in "Beyond Words" at NYC's Urban Stages

Thumbs upOn our recent visit to New York, Telluride Inside… and Out was privileged to attend a performance by Bill Bowers. Poignant self-observation, biting social satire and screwball comedy meet in his latest one-man show, "Beyond Words." The sound of silence is symphonic when this uniquely gifted mime is charged with playing all the instruments. The big small production continues through October 31 at Frances Hill Barlow's Urban Stages, 259 West 30 (between 7th and 8th Avenues).

Bowers is not your typical mime in the tradition of Marcel Marceau, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton to whom he is often favorably and justifiably compared. For one thing, he talks. Like a chatter box on uppers. However, as was the case with his illustrious antecedents, Bowers is capable of delivering universal themes like candy, not cod's liver oil. "Beyond Words", a collection of mime, music and monologues, may be one of the funniest plays you've ever seen and a pleasure to watch for its spare elegance. (Here I am talking about Bowers' performance as well as the production values – sets, lighting,costumes, sound – orchestrated by the talented young director Scott Illingworth, a faculty member at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Acting Program.)

New New Bill smallLess is so much more in the play, so compelling and such a joy to behold, you will barely notice how deadly serious "Beyond Words" can get when expressing Big Ideas such as The Other and Otherness, the enduring power of love, particularly self love (and I mean that in the Yogic sense of Self love, here expressed through the words of a severely disabled young woman, whose mantra is "This is love"), and not judging a book by its cover (here, the small town of Choteau, Montana, where Bowers has a gig as a "guest artist" and the macho uncle who turns out to like dolls. A lot.).

Part-time Telluride local Frances Hill Barlow founded her award-winning, not-for-profit off-Broadway theatre company in 1984. The idea was and remains discovering, nurturing and producing exceptional new works by artists of diverse cultural backgrounds –  including the output of the endangered species known as WASP. Like Bowers.

Watching Bowers, it struck me he is the John Leguizamo of the pink and green set, a gay Westerner, who like his Hispanic counterpart, is in his element performing the protean task of pulling multiple personalities out of his hat – or hats in the case of "Beyond Words" – like the proverbial magician and his rabbits.

Years ago, Telluride Inside… and Out went off-Broadway to watch Leguizamo perform a one-man, autobiographical show that anticipated the TV comedy-drama "The United States of Tara"  – minus the diagnosis. In that coming-of-age story, Leguizamo seamlessly, brilliantly morphed into a variety of characters representing the people who shaped his life growing up  – his mother, his sister, friends, his younger self, etc. – set in the neighborhood that shaped him. The remix is Bowers'  "Beyond Words," only here the focus is small-town America, not Jackson Heights, New York.

Bowers, who created the role of Zazu in Broadway's "The Lion King," famously claimed to have become a mime because he was born in Montana. Get it? The place is Big and Quiet. But he was never "your average small-town boy, pre-'Glee,'" as he ironically claims to have been. In his first job, a youthful Bowers expresses his innate, over-the-top enthusiasm by arranging radishes in the form of a map of Montana. That got him reassigned to the back room. Becoming the Jasper Johns of the salad bar was not in Bowers's future. Instead we get to be nourished by his powerful acting chops.

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