Gollum and the Gypsy

Fringe 2015: 'Still Standing You' (second review)

3 minute read
Growling and hissing. (Photo by Phile Deprez)
Growling and hissing. (Photo by Phile Deprez)

Still Standing You is simultaneously the most barbaric and brilliant theater piece I have ever seen. Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido exhibit merciless stamina and a primitive, macho, mine-is-bigger-than-yours performance that is mixed in with touching displays of affection and boyish playfulness.

Upon entering the theater, we are greeted by Guilherme, who sits on the bottom of Pieter’s feet, chattering candidly in a thick Portuguese accent and creating a comfortable, laughable atmosphere, as Pieter’s legs hold him up without so much as a wobble (until about 10 minutes in, at least). Guilherme is like some kind of charming court jester — the witty and worldly exchange student we all loved in high school. Pieter, who is silent while this is happening, eventually caves and sends Guilherme careening across the stage. The performance begins.

The two men stay in their established characters throughout the entire performance. Guilherme maintains an air of silliness and charm, while Pieter, silent in the beginning, only hisses and growls. It’s like watching a crocodile and a plover bird on National Geographic, though Pieter reminded me of Sméagol/Gollum from Lord of The Rings (he’s got that “my precious” thing down) and Guilherme reminded me of Clopin Trouillefou, the head of the Gypsies, from Disney’s animated Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or Batman and Robin, if they were cavemen.

Strenuous physicality

I was continually shocked that neither of the performers had broken bones, although since this show has been touring since 2010, I’m sure their bodies are well accustomed to their strenuous physicality. The performers mesh their bodies into each other and begin their violent array of mesmerizing acrobatics: Guilherme suffocates Pieter with his own beard; Guilherme uses his ankles as stepping stones for Pieter, who walks across the stage striking Arnold Schwarzenegger poses and growling at the audience; Pieter grabs Guilherme by the pants and arms and swings him in circles, hovering above the floor, while Guilherme hums along in a high-pitched circus tune, before Pieter lets go and Guilherme goes flying across the stage. Then they start ripping off their clothes. They grab and jiggle each other’s fat (“The cheeesesteaaaak!” growls Guilherme), they wipe off their sweat on one another. Then they take off all of their clothes, and things get really interesting.

In their stark nakedness, Guilherme is bronzed like a bottle of Coppertone and Pieter is the exact contrast with skin the color of milk. Once the clothes come off, they are reduced to “man.” Man in the sense of the first man. I’m talking caveman. They grab one another by the penis and remain connected that way for a decent amount of time, twisting and writhing around each other. Pieter grabs and stretches Guilherme’s manhood, screaming at it, before twisting it like a piece of rope. They create a small symphony just from the slapping sounds their penises make. They demonstrate different ways to show “mine is bigger than yours.” Pieter attaches himself to Guilherme like a baby koala to his mother, and Guilherme uses his nails to scratch a heart into his back, raw and pulsing red. It is cringeworthy, but you can’t stop watching.

Combat and pride

The combat and pride begin to melt toward the end of the performance, when the two men have completely depleted their energy. They start by leaning on each other, in various different poses, before completely meshing their bodies together into one form. The contrast between the colors of their skin and the sweat glistening off of both of their bodies creates something magic and beautiful, and at that point, I can’t believe I am looking at two bodies. They breathe in harmony, and as the last moments of the performance come, the audience is truly aware that they have just experienced perhaps the most intimate and heart-wrenching performance they have ever seen.

The title says it all — Guilherme and Pieter tell us a story about a friendship between two men — the ups and downs of a friendship, the tolerance in a friendship, the anger, jealousy, support, joy. No matter what, they stand one another.

For Gregory King’s review, click here.

What, When, Where

Still Standing You. Pieter Ampe, Guilherme Garrido, CAMPO. September 9-11, 2015, at the Painted Bride, 230 Vine Street, Philadelphia. Part of the 2015 Fringe Festival. fringearts.com or 215-413-1318.

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