NYTheater.com Review

by Martin Denton · March 23, 2002

Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. is absolutely delightful. I had a ball. After weeks of Crucibles and Goats and Necessary Targets, I was totally ready for a blissful hour-and-a-half of theatre, and that's exactly what Garbo and his co-star Daielma Santos (she's the "Co.") serve up. My niece Julie, whose reviews sometimes grace these pages, remarked after we saw the show that she couldn't imagine anyone not having a good time, and I completely agree. Garbo is playing at the New Victory Theatre, known for children's fare, but this is appropriate for every age group. The small fry and the old timers in the audience were all having a blast.

Now I have to try to explain why. The closest analog I can come up with is Bill Irwin and David Shiner's Fool Moon. Like that sublimely merry show, Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. blends classic vaudeville shtick with wondrous new inventions to surprise, engage, amuse, and beguile us; more important, both shows share a sprightly innocence that brings out the child in all of us. When you're an adult, it's nice to know that the kid inside can still clap his hands in wonder and delight when something genuinely magical happens on stage.

That feeling recurs again and again during Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. Enormous, colorful beach balls and inner tubes cavort whimsically and dance together. A huge bouncing cube sprouts arms and legs and finds that it can walk upright and even turn cartwheels. A pretty ballerina does the can-can and then, to our amazement and to hers, her bubblegum pink skirt starts growing and growing until it swallows her up.

A fellow named Fred Zeppelin shows up near the end of the show: an ingratiatingly clumsy but cool character whose suit seems to be filled entirely with hot air, he nevertheless executes a wicked dance routine to "Do Ya Love Me?" from The Blues Brothers. When Zeppelin tries to sit on a bright red bridge chair, he topples onto his bottom and almost floats above it: all of Garbo's extraordinary inventions, crafted literally from only cloth and air, send our spirits soaring every time they lift off.

Fred Zeppelin is of course Fred Garbo in a custom-made suit: Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. is a dazzling, dizzying showcase for the remarkable talents of this man, which include, in addition to the aforementioned, juggling (rings and flaming torches), mime, effortless acrobatic dancing, and corny, warm-hearted comedy. His partner in crime is Brazilian-born Daielma Santos, who is a lovely and graceful dancer and creates gloriously beautiful stage pictures with accessories like a red fan, a length of colored ribbon, or a stack of filmy pastel handkerchieves.

Neither Garbo nor Santos take themselves the least bit seriously-indeed, a high point of the show comes when they each parody each other's act. But don't be misled: this is art of the highest order-it wouldn't be so effervescently joyful if it weren't.

The show is about ninety minutes long with an intermission in the middle of it; at the performance reviewed, Garbo and Santos offered no fewer than three encores to the wildly applauding crowd. And after those, believe it or not, came the biggest and best surprise of all. (I won't tell you what-I'll just tell you not to rush to the exits after the curtain call.)

Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. is at the New Victory for three more weeks. Grab the family and get over there: we all deserve to be this happy for at least a little while.