It's bye-bye for Zoozoo.
Imago Theatre of Portland is making its Winnipeg debut this week on the show's North American farewell tour. The well-regarded mask and mime company intends to retire its signature production in June and move into a more dance-oriented direction.
Based on first impressions, that's a pity. Zoozoo is funfun.
In nine wordless vignettes at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, a menagerie of hippos, anteaters, frogs, polar bears, penguins, fireflies and uncertain species are introduced into familiar human situations. Two pajamas-wearing hippos try to get some sleep but instead act like a pair of blanket hogs. Five penguins, crowd favourites based on rousing response, take part in an hilarious game of musical chairs. An anteater in a restaurant attempts to get service from an oblivious anteater waiter.
Many of the creatures are curious and not acquainted with theatre's fourth wall -- the imaginary boundary between stage action and its audience. The kids seem to enjoy the performance on stage but go crazy when the animals wander into their midst during a school performance this week.
When five fluffy but curious polar bears bounded off the stage and began climbing over the mostly delighted youngsters, one uncertain Grade 2 or 3 boy ran for his life. Even after the bears proved they meant no harm and later made a second excursion into the audience, the youngster again shot out of his seat and took several steps in the direction of the exit.
MTYP's final offering of its tumultuous season is pure entertainment without a lesson meant to be learned, perfect for kids heading into spring break next week. Not all the five-to-eight minute pieces -- silent except for Katie Griesar's engaging score -- have a major comedic payoff but every one boasts visual pizzazz. The formally attired anteaters sport long snouts with tongues that unfurl like New Year's Eve blowout noisemakers. Again the young spectators jumped to their feet in delight when the anteaters headed towards them with their tongues extended.
The humour on display is subtle and easy for even the low end of the four-and-up target audience to understand and appreciate. Three frogs bob up and down in unison until one gets carried away with his freestyling, earning death stares from its unimpressed playmates. When one notices a passing fly, it doesn't snatch it out of the air with its tongue, but nonchalantly whacks it with a fly swatter. From the roar of approval, the children were amused.
There were several solo pieces that showcased the dexterity of performers Jonathan Godsey, Darren McCarthy, Keyon Gaskin, David King and Pratik Motwani. One featured an oversized paper bag that was being propelled all over the stage by something alive inside. Another involved larvabatics in which it was hard to determine which end of the wormlike form was up.
All these creatures are endangered species because Zoozoo is about to close forever. See them before they are made extinct.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
Opens Friday at 7 p.m., to March 31
Tickets: $15.50 at 204-942-8898
Three and a half stars