LEO (The Anti-Gravity Show)
NCSU Center Stage at Titmus Theatre
Through March 23
It’s one of those ingeniously simple concepts. Build an open-sided room, laid on its side so that a light bulb “hangs” perpendicular to the left wall. On an adjacent video screen, rotate the live action 90 degrees to the right, so that the wall becomes the ceiling and the floor, a wall. Insert one acrobatic actor/dancer into the room and, for the next hour or so, have him execute choreography that looks equally amazing, in different ways, across both screwy spatial planes. Reap the delighted laughter and astounded gasps of adults and children alike as your reward.
This is the scenario of LEO (The Anti-Gravity Show), which comes to NCSU Center Stage by way of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it deservedly captured multiple awards. Directed by Montreal’s Daniel Briére and based on an idea by Tobias Wegner, LEO was performed on Wednesday night by Julian Schulz, whose incredible physical control and slapstick grace had shades of Charlie Chaplin. In what has to be one of the most unusual roles around, he acts out much of his part on the floor, which in itself is something to see. For the hour, he’s our sole focal point outside of a couple props—a hat, a bottle of water, an increasingly magical-seeming suitcase. And he’s more than enough.
Sometimes, the video, which streamed almost simultaneously with the live action (there was a very slight lag), made normal things look impossible—when the real Schulz stood on the floor, his projected doppelganger stood on the wall. Other times, it did the opposite. It was hard to understand how the actor was able to hold himself up with one hand on the floor and two feet on the wall, though in the projection, this physical feat transformed into a man leaning casually against a wall. And sometimes, the difference was split, as when the virtual Schulz, apparently standing upright, threw his hat or loosened his tie so that they flew or hung at improbable angles.
If this description all sounds arduous, it’s because our language is built for our physics, which LEO gleefully chucks out. It really has to be seen to be still-not-quite-believed. But while the action is joyously bewildering, the plot, inasmuch as there is one, is simple enough. It begins with a man trying to reach a flickering light bulb. There’s a long dance sequence set to different styles of music that seem to be emanating from the suitcase. Then the actor takes up a piece of chalk and gradually draws himself a cozy kitchen on the wall, the objects becoming real as he draws them. He sketches a rheostat for the bulb and turns it up high, and when he starts playing the harmonica, animation on the screen brings his drawings to life. A spilled fishbowl fills the room with water for a dreamy aquatic sequence, a grace note before an intense crescendo of a finale.
LEO is less of a story than an evocative run through every spatial possibility of the scenario, which is mined for humor, whimsy and wonder rather than existential angst or dark pathos—except for the actor’s almost panicky efforts to escape the now-empty room at the end. How will he get out? The answer is a final astonishment in a long series of them, and leads to a chipper encore joke we won’t spoil. Get to LEO before it closes on March 23, because we can almost guarantee that you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
LEO (The Anti-Gravity Show)