August 19, 2006
At the Clamorous New York Fringe Festival, Silence Draws Attention

Billy the Mime isn’t going to make your child an animal balloon. And you can forget about seeing him endlessly pull an invisible rope. As for being trapped inside a box, the oldest pantomime in the book, the closest he gets in his skillfully obscene new Fringe Festival show, named after himself, is when he portrays a fetus just before an abortion.

Billy, who occasionally flashes a demented-looking smile, is a different kind of mime: politically incorrect, shockingly unsentimental and as uncomfortably funny as a dirty joke in church. His vignettes, in increasingly bad taste, provide something of a secret history of the scandals, violence and disasters of the United States.

Best known for his cameo appearance in the documentary “The Aristocrats,” which is demure, compared with this sardonically twisted piece, this superbly trained physical comedian needs only a few limber movements to communicate the life and death of John F. Kennedy Jr. (who on his last flight looks at a manual before takeoff) or the horrific story of an altar boy and a priest. And prepare yourself for his version of Sept. 11. It begins ominously, tracking two narratives – those of a terrorist and an office worker at the World Trade Center – and just when you think he has become respectful, Billy hits you with a chilling finale that imagines the terrorist in heaven.

Billy the Mime is, to put it mildly, not for everyone. But in today’s theater scene, which so frequently tries and fails to provoke, it is impressive to see a savvy artist shock an audience into gales of laughter and then stun it into silence – all without saying a word.