ReviewStage

"Lebensraum (Habitat)" Review: A Madcap Contraption with Surprising Heart

Coco Nakase ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Yannick Greweldinger and Reinier Schimmel in Lebensraum (Habitat). Photo Credit: Stephanvan Hesteren/ArtsEmerson.
Yannick Greweldinger and Reinier Schimmel in Lebensraum (Habitat). Photo Credit: Stephanvan Hesteren/ArtsEmerson.

Inspired by Buster Keaton’s silent film The Scarecrow, Jakop Ahlbom creates a melancholic world filled with physically impressive slapstick comedy and evocative music in Lebensraum (Habitat).

In place of the traditional live piano that accompanies silent films, indie rock band Alamo Race Track sets the tone with quirky tunes that complement the seemingly mundane tasks the two scientists, Reinier Schimmel and Yannick Greweldinger, begin the show with. However, things are not as they seem, and the playful, inventive nature of the one-room home is revealed: the bed turns into a piano, the refrigerator is inside a book case, and the characters’ breakfast is a carefully choreographed act involving a Rube-Goldberg machine-like system with ropes, pulleys, and salt and pepper shakers hanging from the ceiling.

The set, a near replica of the small, patterned walled room from The Scarecrow, is a character in itself, with a number of rotating walls, false bottoms and other such physics-defying traits one would expect of a silent film set. It provides ample playground for the actors to display their physical prowess and impeccable timing.

Yannick Greweldinger, Reinier Schimmel and Silke Hundertmark in Lebensraum (Habitat). Photo Credit: Stephanvan Hesteren/ArtsEmerson.
Yannick Greweldinger, Reinier Schimmel and Silke Hundertmark in Lebensraum (Habitat). Photo Credit: Stephanvan Hesteren/ArtsEmerson.

When the two scientists introduce their latest creation, a life-sized female robot played by Silke Hundertmark, the signature silent film madness begins. Once the robot discovers her autonomy and starts to develop a mind of her own, the carefully structured life of the two scientists enters madcap chaos. The actors chase one another over tables and through windows, spinning on rotating walls in a masterfully choreographed technical feat. The insanity is visually stunning and punctuated by the actors’ unexpected honesty and empathy that are enhanced by more melancholic songs.

With a sweet, teasing scene to close out the seventy minutes, the audience is left in a head rush, struck by the overwhelming gymnastics, hint of backstory, and intriguing character development, and hoping to see it resolved. Spectators are left both wonderfully exhausted and wanting just a little bit more. Regardless of the implications of the ending, Lebensraum (Habitat) is a delight to watch and well worth the time.

Lebensraum (Habitat) plays from April 9–13 at the Paramount Center Mainstage. Tickets can be picked up at the box office or found at artsemerson.org.

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