Plan B by CIE 111
(Photo © Aglae Bory)
Plan B by CIE 111
(Photo © Aglae Bory)
It's fitting that director Phil Soltanoff of the Toulouse-based Compagnie 111's production of Plan B also founded the cheekily-named Institute of Useless Activity. There's nothing particularly practical about finding inventive ways to hurdle around a large wall, which is the reductive way of describing the riveting acrobatics on display in this terpsichorean exploration of the geometric plane. That the players act as though they're just goofing around when they carry out mind-boggling stunts makes their performance unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable. Although Plan B is running at New York's premiere children's theater, it provokes wonder in audiences of all ages.

As the show begins, the wall is sloped at a 45-degree angle. The players enter clad in conservative business suits, with briefcases in hand. They look poised for a meeting or a power lunch, and they successively slide down the wall while a remaining cast member strums an acoustic guitar. With graceful movements, they vault from one platform to another in rhythm to the serene music playing in the background. For a few minutes, it seems that the audience is attending an avant-garde show in a downtown venue rather than a children's theater.

Shortly after, however, the angle of the wall changes to 90 degrees and the show's increasingly silly tone -- part ballet, part circus -- reminds us of where we are. One actor finds a rubber ball that's used in juggling and dizzying sleight-of-hand routines. (During the performance that I attended, children in the audience were heard to ask "How did he do that?" about every five minutes.) Other actors make novel use of suction cups and Velcro in the form of a hilarious full-body suit. Then there's a live video segment (courtesy of Pierre Rigal) that employs trick camera work to present Chop Socky kung fu fighting. The performers -- Olivier Alenda, Aurélien Bory, Loïc Praud, Alexandre Rodoreda, Sylvain LaFourcade, and Stéphane Ley -- make their physical comedy look easy and their difficult stunts seem effortless.

Lighting designer Arno Veyrat shines images resembling mathematical matrixes against the backstage wall and skillfully moves the audience's focus with spotlights. Three scenic designers (Christian Meurisse, Harold, Guidolin, and Pierre Dequivre) have come up with a minimalist set; while that number of personnel might sound like overkill, the wall contains a multitude of removable platforms and crevices that required careful planning and construction, and the trio has crafted an imaginative playground for the cast. Likewise, five people are credited with the engaging musical score; one is the director and two are actors in the show. Another cast member has done additional sound design. The sheer versatility of this company is extraordinary. If there's any real-world benefit to stirring up the imagination, Plan B, with its wordless poetry and comedy, may be one of the best children's shows in a long time.