Pss Pss upends conventional clowning and acrobatics in crowd-pleasing ways

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      Created and performed by Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari. Directed by Louis Spagna. A Compagnia Baccalà production, presented by the Cultch. At the York Theatre on Wednesday, February 21. Continues until March 4

      You need to be patient to appreciate the full effect of Pss Pss. Hang in there; it’s worth it.

      Switzerland’s Compagnia Baccalà combines clowning, physical theatre, and acrobatics in this two-person show. Things get off to a slow start, as performers Simone Fassari and Camilla Pessi try to outdo each other in juggling a single apple. The sequence feels long, but it sets up a lot of elements that keep paying off later: the is-it-friendly-or-not rivalry that sometimes leads to disaster, the rubbery physicality of both performers, and the exquisite precision of their movement and facial expressions.

      The pace picks up in the first acrobatic sequence, in which Pessi climbs all over Fassari, balancing on his shoulders, his hands, even his head. It’s virtuosic, and terrifically synced with the circus theme music that recurs throughout the show. Later, Fassari shows off his skills with the diabolo (sort of a giant yo-yo), and, in the show’s most original sequence, the pair perform music and mime with an upside-down ladder. The trapeze routine that follows upends the convention of sinuous grace associated with the apparatus: here, the two fight for space on the swing, feet in each other’s faces.

      Fassari and Pessi are not only skilled; they’re extremely charming clowns. Fassari is stocky, bashful, and accident-prone; Pessi’s lanky body is topped with teased-out hair that frames a face she contorts into a dazzling array of expressions. And the chemistry between them is terrific, whether they’re clawing at each other or wrapped in a prolonged hug.

      This is one of those shows with broad appeal: on the night I saw it, the audience ranged from very young children to seniors, and the enthusiasm was audible. Pss Pss is worth catching—and bringing the whole family along.