Have you ever wondered what would happen if gravity changed its direction? Like, what if left was all of a sudden down? How would the stuff in the room that’s not nailed to the floor readjust itself ever so violently into the wall? The thought is a pleasantly anxiety producing mental exercise – what would I do if the room I am in was suddenly tipped on its side? It’s good to get some perspective on life, even if does require being head over heels. Isn’t that why people go to the theater or see movies anyway?

Romantic love, the kind all the movies are about, often produces the same vertiginous feeling, as if the room you are in is about to be suddenly and without warning tipped on its side, and you and the charming person you are with might be literally thrown together in to all kinds of awkward, unexpected physical intimacies. Poets have used anthologies full of metaphors to explain this effect: love is magic, transforming a skinny, awkward duckling into a graceful swan; love is a hallucinogenic drug that can give you angelic (or demonic) visions; ultimately, love is the feeling of flying, and the attendant fear, complete with sweaty palms, a queasy stomach, and the desire to squeeze your eyes tightly shut, so you can’t see what a predicament you’re in.

Summer Shapiro and Peter Musante have taken the words out of these metaphors to rearticulate them with a purely physical vocabulary in “Legs and All,” which premiered in New York at the FRIGID festival. (Check out a video trailer here.) Their wonderful hour long play (in my opinion, the best of the festival) is a kinetic poem about the space we share with our desires, the space taken up by the desires of others, and the uncomfortably delicious vertigo one feels when your personal space crashes into someone else’s.

Love’s sweet confusion commences when a recorded voice, deep and seductive, mumbles and purrs something in pseudo French gibberish. The lights come up on a woman, standing in a box, rotating in a circle and staring into space like a specimen on display in a replicant boutique. The lights go down and come up again on a man in the same situation. The gibberish French pretends it’s the narrator of a New Wave movie and implies that these are the two who are going to fall all over each other while they fall in love.

Their story is particularly touching because both characters are so awkward. The romantic axis on which many love stories turn – the strong man and the ethereal woman – is wonderfully inverted. The man is shy, a collector of trifles, a little squeamish, and definitely hemmed in by timidity. The woman, on the other hand, is palpably physical, almost to the point that her head (the place of thinking and feeling) is alienated from her overpowering corporeality. Her opening scene describes the strangeness of the body, like a scene from Sartre’s Nausea, or a teenager’s horror on finding hair growing where no sane person would grow hair. In the scene her hand appears out of a giant blue box to do a sexy dance routine. Ms. Hand is joined by the another hand who appears to have three legs, and then morphs into a quadroped. Finally the woman’s head pops up to take a look at the goings on, and in a fit of anger Head bites the naughty Hand and gives it a death shake – until she realizes it’s connected.

After the pair negotiate their personal space, they start to move around in each other’s shared space, and that’s when things go topsy-turvy. The picture at the top of the post was not taken by a photographer hanging from the rafters. Rather, the man and the woman fall to the left in order to have a romantic picnic. The visual metaphor is so charming you can’t help but get hot and cold running blushes and chills. The woman continues to be uncomfortably physical, and the man continues to be freaked out, like someone with OCD negotiating the subway and realizing they just ran out of hand sanitizer. This situation morphs through several situations until the two get comfortable with each other and climb into a big blue box of shared, intimate space.

Words don’t do it justice, and I must resist the urge to read Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Musant’s every gesture! There are so many tasty ones, so many hilarious moments, if I took the time to relate them all we’d be here until next week. Suffice it to say that Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Musante both have strong physical theater chops. Both are graduates of UCLA’s theater program. Mr. Musante is a veteran of Blue Man Group NYC, and Ms. Shapiro has most recently been an artist in residence at San Francisco’s Climate Theater, writing, performing, and producing three original physical comedy shows that toured East and West in just over a year. Ms. Shapiro has the most expressive face that she uses to maximum comedic effect, and Mr. Musante is a picture of grace, even when he’s falling on his face.

Luckily “Legs and All” is one of the plays being held over for an extra performance this week at a couple of different New York locations. If you were planning on seeing “The Hurt Locker” for the third time, or hanging out at a hotel bar haranguing strangers about the time you spent in a Turkish prison, don’t do it! See this play instead! It’s your best entertainment option.

Legs and All

Fri 3/12, 8:30PM at The Kraine Theater (85 E. 4th St @ 2nd Ave)
$15, $12 stud tix: http://www.smarttix.com/show.aspx?EID=&showCode=LEG10&GUID=6b359652-8457-4bff-a460-b7d5283e4ed2

Wed 3/17, 9:30PM at The Tank (354 W. 45th St @ 9th Ave)
$10 tix: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/102973
with funny man Chris Manley

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