Mark Nizer has been a juggler 38 years. Really. His tax returns say juggler. “I get audited every year.” The lithe, enthusiastic 50 year-old has spent his life exploring the art—make no mistake, it is an art. Tossing balls in the air, looping them under legs, spinning around, bending backwards, bouncing them off the floor or on one’s forehead is not all there is. Nor is keeping dangerous and diverse objects in flight as Nizer does with a flaming propane torch, a buzzing electric carving knife and a bowling ball.
Good juggling requires an extraordinary working relationship with gravity, physical agility and grace, impeccable timing, extreme focus and the imagination to invent and execute the unexpected. We’ve all seen pins tossed ad infinitum. A respected practitioner like Nizer makes it look easy. Creating an intimate atmosphere with running, jokey repartee, the thespian even answers questions and responds to comments (generally from children) while in motion.
Expect the Impossible begins with a film that includes jokes, an interactive card trick and visual manipulation. Robotic announcements are a teaser to the evening’s eventual centerpiece. Nizer is shown juggling while hang gliding and rushes in wearing the same clothes, apologizing for his lateness. He has our attention.
I can’t imagine the arm strength needed to catch, release, and shuffle eight tiered and balanced cigar boxes (the chevron shape is particularly impressive), nor the hand-eye coordination necessary to make a full turn, jump over them and back. Still, we’re in relatively familiar, if well enacted territory. The next demonstration enlists two audience volunteers who help Nizer mount a very tall unicycle. His awkward climb is amusing. Helpers are good humored. Once up there, the artist juggles two machetes and an apple out of which he takes bites while peddling back and forth. The little girl behind me can’t stop giggling.
We take a turn towards the show’s inventive heart with a musical competition between Nizer eliciting notes by bouncing balls off an electronic piano keyboard on the floor and the on-screen computer presence—in this instance represented by a pulsing speaker. The computer’s voice challenges and, of course wins, by playing “Dueling Banjos.” Being a computer, however, the machine also has difficulties, forcing it to retreat and restart in Microsoft Safe Mode. The novelty is intriguing.
Brief live and film segues (juggling under water among sharks) which might be placed elsewhere in the sequence so as not to impede anticipation, lead us to Robo Juggle (“brought to you by Windows Vista.”) We’re asked to put on 3-D glasses issued on entrance. The stage goes black. Nizer has morphed into a full sized, multicolored, neon stick figure made up of a circle, 4 torso lines and two lines each as arms. Three red neon balls appear to juggle themselves in front of him. The computer screen has a like image. “A virus has been detected” it intones manifesting chicken feet on the computer sketch. The audience responds to all-to-familiar frustration with laughter.
“Please install this update” provokes the appearance of neon eyeglasses floating before the full sized Nizer. “Level three completed. Bluetooth level available. Would you like to download and install now?” On screen, the figure multiplies and goes haywire. “Thank you for using Windows, the most stable operating system in the world. A paid upgrade is now available. Please insert an arm and a leg…” And on. Monologue is terrific and completely, contextually original. The Hallelujah Chorus accompanies a wry climax.
Light is featured again with the manipulation of a Diablo. Picture two 6” bowls with closed tops, end to end, sort of like a cinched spool with a slimmer waist. The Diablo rides along and is tossed from a rope attached at both ends to manipulating rods. Blackout. The rods become neon green, while the red Diablo dances, its rope invisible, creating a light show of shooting, splaying lasers and whirlygig doodles. And again, with a juggling laser sequence which shows especially well in generated fog, but sets off the smoke alarm.
Demonstrations utilizing a mouth-held rod, big, twirling rubber balls, and ping pong balls also contribute to the varied show. There’s no question, however, that the playful light/laser/computer bits are memorable highlights.
Expect the Impossible
Created and performed by Mark Nizer
Canal Park Playhouse
June 15, 2012
For other captivating performers go to the Canal Park Playhouse website.