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Review: Child actors mimic adults in “˜Ã¼BUNG’

By David Chang

Apr. 21, 2004 9:00 pm

In one of the rare instances where lip-synching is not only
engrossing but also applauded, the child actors of the
Belgium-based theater company Victoria proved captivating as
copycats in last Saturday night’s performance of
writer/actor/director Josse De Pauw’s
“üBUNG” at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse, drawing
to an end UCLA Live’s second International Theatre
Festival.

The premise of “üBUNG” ““ Flemish for
“practice” ““ is rather simple. Six children, aged
approximately nine to 14, provide voice-overs for six adult
characters in a muted black-and-white film. The children, dressed
in replicated clothes, even mimic certain movements and gestures of
their celluloid counterparts. In terms of timing and accuracy, they
were impeccable to the point where some audience members chuckled
in amazement. The child actors’ tone and body language also
matched those of their respective film characters.

The film depicts a bourgeois dinner party at a remote country
house where a Russian violinist, a middle-aged goofball, and two
married couples soon resort to some not-so-innocent behavior. Their
dinner party spirals into a drunken release of rage, euphoria and
sexual frustration, which served as a timely showcase for the
children’s talents. Scenes in which multiple characters are
speaking at the same time were performed cleanly and almost with
flair. The children mastered the drunken guffaws and giggles, which
might be more difficult to mimic than normal conversations.

The child actors won over the audience during a scene that saw
one character blasting out corny jokes without shame, another
character repeatedly screaming in sorrow and another performing a
drunken rendition of Eric Clapton’s “You Look Wonderful
Tonight” ““ all in unison. This cacophony of various
emotional sounds was blissfully uncomfortable.

Something that was visibly a tad uncomfortable was the children
taking off their clothes (undergarments intact) in plain sight. De
Pauw no doubt purposely placed the costume racks on stage and
directed the children to change very slowly, almost seductively. A
hush fell over the audience as the boys and girls took turns
stripping down.

It seems as though De Pauw’s intention was to question
people’s ideas of what is appropriate and how far art can go.
Aside from exploring the effects adults (rather than music and
television) have on children and their inevitable loss of
innocence, the production made audiences feel unsure about where
they draw the line.

-David Chang

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