The Whim and Whimsy of James and Jamesy

They're more Beckett than bonkers.

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James and Jamesy
At sea: James and Jamesy.

The challenge of writing about James and Jamesy is how to characterize their brand of art and comedy. One imagines Blue Man in an orgy with Mummenshanz, narrated by Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland and filmed for HBO. But they’re no symphony of goo and toilet paper and cranky-pants. Yes, their work is physical comedy blended with clowning and dance, but they perform James and Jamesy in the Dark, now running Off-Broadway, very much in the dark. Directed by David MacMurray Smith, they’re more Beckett than bonkers.

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Two strangers meet in the dark. Each carries a chair to be placed; each would leave after doing so. But their meeting interrupts the flow, their sense of self; the audiences observes their understandings and their misunderstandings only inasmuch as their eyes can spot and follow the performers’ custom-built, illuminated costumes, somewhere in the inky dark.

James and Jamesy are Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles. They’re one export from Canada that the doofus in the White House can’t devalue with a tariff. Watch this video:

James and Jamesy in the Dark is running at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St.) through Oct. 14. For tickets, click here.

And now, 5 questions that James and Jamesy have never been asked:

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?

“What are you supposed to be?” This was asked of us repeatedly throughout the night as we roamed a music festival campground back in 2013. Granted, we were dressed in three-piece suits and wearing illuminating lampshades and no one else was in costume, so we stood out. While the question was asked in earnest, it was often followed by “Pixar. Right? Or, no: What?” This question of identity and purpose became the anchor as we began building a show with these characters.

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What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?

“What are you supposed to be?”

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?

“Can we take your show to China?” This was intriguing and weird. We loved that they wanted to, but we didn’t know how that could work. The entire show has layers of meaning in each line. It is very language conscious and the humour and meaning are woven together.

How did you come to find theatrical inspiration in darkness? Are there more traditional “plays” you would like to see performed in darkness? Would Shaw, Ibsen or Beckett be different with targeted, limited lighting?

Light in darkness is an incredible tool at directing focus. The entire theatre knows exactly where to invest their attention if only one thing is illuminated on a dark stage. In total darkness, our other senses are heightened and in the creation process we were excited to create from this heightened awareness and in the question of “What is happening?,” knowing that we could only know so much.

Shaw or Ibsen or Beckett performed in darkness would no doubt highlight certain elements of each play and lose other elements to the darkness. We can’t say for certain what is gained and lost as we don’t have a traditional theatre background, which also means we don’t have extensive familiarity with Shaw’s or Ibsen’s work. Interestingly, In The Dark is often compared to Beckett, but with hope. Aaron (James) studied biology and Alastair (Jamesy) has a business degree, and we never expected performing to become our careers!

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Your website says that your mission is to “upend the expectations, limitations, and artificial boundaries between performative genres.” Does this presuppose that other genres badly set expectations for audiences? Why do you feel your work is more unlimited and real?

Most shows performed in the theatre typically ask the audience to sit, watch and react. The audience are primarily observers of the action on stage. Admittedly, many shows now break down the fourth wall between performer and audience, ours being one of them. In The Dark presents the argument for engagement in that we are all here, together, now — and that is it. Eventually, audiences find themselves compelled to participate to the point of being excited to create impacts in the environment we have co-created.

Name three countries that you have not yet performed in but where, for specific reasons, you really want to. And what are those reasons?

Bognor Regis, England: When we began touring, we donned what we called “British” accents and had the gumption to tour Canada under the guise of being British Comedians. The coastal town of Bognor Regis became the home we’d never been to.

Japan: We think of Japan as a culture of physical precision. While we are limited by verbal language (we don’t speak Japanese, unfortunately), we’re intrigued to find out if the physicality of our performance would be able to communicate the essence of the message.

Finland: Their humour is more absurd than any other I’ve seen. From the Finns I’ve known to the shows I’ve seen, I would love to immerse myself in their culture, and connect through what we do with performers there.