Dan Froot's Shlammer

Impish, erudite, sensitive, and sidesplittingly funny, Dan Froot is much more than just a dancer-choreographer. He began as a jazz saxophonist-composer and has created award-winning experimental theatre works that combine music, movement, and text into brainy, laugh-a-minute explorations of profound personal issues.

With the New York premiere of "Shlammer," at Dance Theater Workshop, Froot presented a riotous, Yiddish-flavored revue in which vaudevillian dance routines, comic monologues, a trio playing live klezmer music, and witty, violent drama tell the unorthodox story of a Jewish gangster turned stage performer. And we, too, were part of the action. Though this critic generally abhors audience participation, when Froot charged on stage "hung up" by a clothes hanger from the back of his suit, barked instructions to each section of the audience, and put us through rehearsals (followed by critical notes), we performed our roles on cue, unquestioningly, enthusiastically, and with increasing commitment throughout the evening.

Written and choreographed by Froot and directed by Dan Hurlin, "Shlammer," subtitled "a gangster-vaudeville," puts forth questions about masculinity, religious and cultural traditions, and the role of ancestral history in the shaping and growth of an individual. Though marred at times by slight pacing problems, the work delights the eyes, ears, intellect, and funny bone with its array of imaginative bits. Froot delivers a lengthy, expository monologue lying face down in a crime-scene chalk outline of his body. The result is remarkably active. His attempts to teach himself to speak with a Yiddish accent are hysterically disastrous. He deftly executes a vaudevillian "over-the-top" that lands him -- amazingly! -- right back down in his chalk outline. He even treats us to a sax solo.

Based in Los Angeles, Froot performs in New York only occasionally. You don't want to miss his next appearance.