reviewed by Eric Winick
Making their second appearance at Fringe NYC, the infamous Swiss comedy duo Ursus & Nadeschkin (U & N) are once again foisting Synchronized Swimming: The Dry Version upon an unsuspecting audience. The run, like the length of the Fringe itself, is shockingly brief. The show, like U & N themselves, demands to be seen. It may not be theater, and it certainly isn’t stand-up; what it is depends mainly on what you bring to the experience.
What’s clear is that U & N (he, Ursus; she, Nadeschkin) are blessed with a serious gift for shtick. They juggle, dance, and mime like it’s nobody’s business. What separates Swimming from your average clown act are U & N themselves. Onstage, they are a neurotic mess, a highly unstable pair obsessed with detail and wordplay. Their stage personae are as memorable as their personality-defining outfits: she’s a loud, outgoing free spirit in yellow overalls, her blonde hair gnarled into spiky dreadlocks; he’s a sad sack in well-worn blazer, a young, dark, drab Bertolt Brecht.
Though most of the show is performed in English with occasionally forays into Swiss-German (the effect of which is hysterically funny), language really is secondary here. The act consists primarily of skits grounded in physical comedy – some, all, or none of which may be improvised. Regardless, the level of inventiveness is consistently astounding: one minute he’s miming an Aspen tree, the next he’s juggling bowling pins. One minute she’s doing her spot-on impression of a fax machine, the next she’s destroying “I Want To Be Loved By You,” riddling it with high-pitched squeals.
Not all of it works, and the less-developed bits carry a disconcerting air of desperation directly at odds with the more polished sections. Ultimately, however, whether they’re tossing props to one another or prepping the audience for an encore which (they swear) will be entirely spontaneous, U & N fail to disappoint.
According to their publicity materials, Swimming “is about a man and a woman’s struggle to make you feel good.” On that level, Ursus & Nadeschkin succeed wildly. It may not be the most thought-provoking show on the Fringe, but as a refreshing and thoroughly original take on the age-old tradition of clowning, it’s cause for celebration.