(Photo credit: Nicholas Wolfson)
“You Want to be a What?!?” is the reaction Richmond Shepard received years ago when he announced that he wanted to be a mime. He said he wasn’t fit for regular work and he thought that the girls would like him. He went on to be a big success, making a career out of miming. Trained by Alvin Epstein and Etienne Decroux, Richmond started America’s first Mime Troupe back in 1951 and he has acted and mimed on more than 100 television shows since then.
If you are tired of the noise of the city and would like to sit down to some quiet, creative entertainment, come to Don’t Tell Mama and check out this unique mime-cabaret. Richmond lays out more than six decades of his hilarious, inspiring life on stage. He combines vintage mime idioms with those of today and adds just an accent of music and sound. He enlists two other mimes, much younger than himself, to help act out his routines: Marcus Watson, who has performed in both student and independent films as well as theater, and has collaborated with Richmond in the past; and Carol Tandava Henning, who has performed as an actor, stand-up comic, improviser, director, writer and even belly dancer on various New York stages. Richmond also brings with him Weston Gavin, a veteran entertainer, who narrates and provides the sound effects. Weston previously worked with Richmond on an act they called “The Mime & Me” and has performed in many theater, film, and television productions, even appearing on Broadway.
Born in 1929, Richmond is not only the world’s oldest and most respected mime but he is also a critic, writer, teacher, and author. In fact, his Mime: The Technique of Silence is considered to be the standard text on mime and is widely used in universities throughout both the United States. and the United Kingdom. It is the only book that outlines and breaks down the physical techniques of mime. A second book is called Hyphen, a
Spiritual Adventure Between Two Dates. Over the years Richmond’s passion for mime has led him to found a number of mime troupes and also to perform and conduct mime workshops around the world, most recently in Shanghai, Istanbul, Berlin, Jakarta, Sydney and England.
A real pioneer of the art, he has even influenced such entertainers as Robin Williams who appeared at a performance he did on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip before he was anybody. Robin was enthusiastic about the show and went backstage to congratulate him and tell him he was using his book. Richmond also performed a cabaret on the Strip with Lord Buckley back in the late ’50s; he pays tribute to him at Don’t Tell Mama with his skit on “Jonah & The Whale.” Richmond studied modern dance with Lord Buckley and Martha Graham as well, and once met Jean-Louis Barrault who studied under Etienne Decroux along with Marcel Marceau. Still going strong at 85, he continues to teach mime and to write theater and cabaret reviews; you can attend his classes right here in New York and read his critiques online at Performing Arts Insider and lively-arts.com. Richmond is also a painter and his works, referred to as “Painted Jazz,” have been featured in galleries across the U.S. and Europe.
“You Want to Be a What?!?” is broken down into 12 skits that embody a lifetime of Richmond’s contributions to the world of mime beginning with his recounting the story of how he came to be a mime and conducting a little demonstration of how to perform the craft. The acts speak to different periods in Richmond’s life and reveal his personality, wit, and sense of humor. In this reviewer’s opinion, the sound effects do not particularly add to the show, but they do help to set the mood and highlight the skits. By adding voice to the routines, Richmond and Weston set the stage for the various pieces so that the audience has a heads-up about what they are about to see. While one does not normally expect speaking to accompany mime, it is appropriate in a cabaret. Richmond could do the whole show by himself if he wanted to but by bringing in the other mimes and Weston, he avoids the show turning into a monologue; using the other performers provide variety and offer the perspective of seeing his skits played out through more than one set of eyes. They are all good at their craft but none outshine the master mime who is a delight throughout.
Richmond has created the entire show from start to finish including the production, choreography, movement, directing, lighting, the set and the writing. He has picks out all of the costumes. The set is bare with only two chairs and there are no props outside of a lighted match; as for the lighting, it is minimal except for the stars coming out at night when they enact a skit about going into outer space. Fitting for a mime show, the costumes are neutral so that they can adapt to the various skits; they serve their purpose, but are not particularly memorable. Richmond appears in a typical mime outfit: white pants, a white and grey-striped shirt, and a red bandana around his neck; Marcus enters in black tights and a black, long-sleeved, pull-over top; and Carol comes on stage wearing a sheer, brown, short dress. All of their faces are covered in white, as one might expect. Every act is entertaining and part of the fun is the joy you see the actors have performing; they truly enjoy what they are doing. Among the highlights are “The Secret of Survival,” “The Giant” and “The Arcade.” Richmond also spices things up with some “Standup Mime Jokes.”
Although the show is not an elaborate production, all the skits are innovative, creative, and full of humor. Mime stands out from other forms of entertainment because of the imagination and creativity required to perform it; also, the audience needs to pay close attention to catch all the scenarios being acted out or they will miss out on some of the skits. Richmond, who is charming as well as handsome, has had a remarkable career. He is also exceptionally witty and spry for his age. Overall, this memoir in mime is very entertaining and gives insight into the life of a mime. A true legend, Richmond’s show is a must-see if you appreciate the world of mime. Bring your whole family and then compare your favorite skits over dinner.
“You Want to Be a What?!?” (Tuesdays at 9:15 P.M. through Oct. 28, 2014)
Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-75 7-0788 (after 4 PM daily) or visit http://www.donttellmamanyc.com/shows
Running time: one hour with no intermission