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Strassman: Duality

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Marissa Burgess

This hour-long one man – and his doll – show from veteran ventriloquist David Strassman is a supremely clever and layered piece.

Pretty much every ventriloquism act these days is knowingly post-modern and Strassman is no exception. Duality includes all the hallmarks of the modern day ventriloquist act – with plenty of references to the fact that the puppett is not a real boy, there’s friction in their ‘relationship’ and the dummy is often troublesome and uncooperative.

But one of the major differences in this performance is that most ventriloquists use the dummy’s conversation with the audience to convey these ideas, Duality however is a fourth wall production set ‘off stage’ so the only conversation is between the dummy and operator.

Strassman plays Jack, while his most famous dummy, 13-year-old Chuck Wood, ‘plays’ his puppet sidekick Zack, waiting in a therapist’s office for an appointment. Jack is excited about a competition gig that he is sure will see their act back on top and is keen for them to try out their new routines.

Of course every ventriloquist worth their salt these days also has to address the common perception that ventriloquism is a dying art, so the pair bicker about how their act is finished and that they should give it up. It’s particularly necessary here as Zack/Chuck is a wooden doll of the old school appearance; the kind of creepy effigy that you can imagine going on a rampage in the middle of the night.

But far from being dead in the water the show is supremely animated. On a technical level you can’t find fault. Their conversation bounces back and forth and Strassman’s skill as a ventriloquist is in no doubt. The quickfire chat is faultlessly performed despite the added complication that Strassman is operating Chuck/Zach’s robotics by a mechanism in his hand as well as the traditional arm-up-the-backside option.

But beyond Zack simply suggesting that Jack is putting words in his mouth, he takes it further by suggesting that he is a projection of Jack’s subconscious. Conversation switches with Zack suggesting that he is Jack’s inner voice, or perhaps some kind of surrogate son (Zach repeatedly asks about his mother) or even, disturbingly, his lover.

Elsewhere Strassman plays around with the notion of what is and isn’t real; when they try out skits for that night’s ‘show’ it’s deliberately unclear as to which is a routine and which is them in a heated discussion.

A discussion that is of course, whichever way you look at it, essentially one man talking to himself. Definitely a show that’s worth taking in twice.

Review date: 10 Aug 2010
Reviewed by: Marissa Burgess

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