The Mums are back, at the Odyssey Theatre. They are L.A.'s answer to the Flying Karamazov Brothers. The core skill in each case is juggling; the difference is one of spirit. Where the Flying K's work in a goofy, happy-go-lucky style, the Mums are dark and intense, almost Faustian. Where the Flying K's give a performance, the Mums hold a seance.
Alternately, you might think of three determined-to-be-bad boys fooling around in their clubhouse after school, systematically violating every after-school taboo. They play with fire. They play with razor blades. They throw knives. They materialize a pigeon, and reduce him to pigeon juice. (Just an illusion.)
Their mothers would be horrified. But as with any absorbing hobby, the fooling-around has become a search for perfection. In some of these numbers it is required. When the Mums are playing mumbley-peg with some very large knives, or playing pepper with some very hot torches, one is just as glad not to be sitting in the front row.
Risk is the watchword: doing what you're afraid to do. The kettledrum number isn't physically dangerous, but one slip and it would collapse. This is another pepper game, with Indian clubs. But the instant the club reaches your hand, you have to bang the drum with it, in exact rhythm with the other two players. Nervous work.
It went brilliantly at Thursday night's opening--Mephistopheles was with them. At other times, I missed the whiff of sulfur. There's quite a lot of talking in this new Mums show, and when these guys open their mouths they sound disappointingly like West Covina: the air of mystery vanishes. It could be that the Mums ought to keep mum.
On the other hand, the new openness can be seen as another kind of risk. It also makes their show more accessible to children. The evening ends with the audience trooping out on the street to meet the Mums--Roy Johns, Albie Selznick, Nathan Stein. I heard Johns caution a little boy never to try the trick where you swallow razor blades.
Good advice, of course. But why is it disappointing when a necromancer turns out to be your older brother?