It’s a martial arts sparring performance. No, wait, it’s a juggling show. A comedy act? Or an on-stage movie? If you don’t know how to describe NANDA, it’s because their show The Jacket is like nothing you’ve ever seen. But with acrobatics, perfectly staged fight scenes and spot-on comedy, you’ll probably enjoy it. So will your kids.
The show tells the story of a jacket with mystical powers, and the fights that erupt around it. We first see the forging of the mythical jacket by dreadlocked, bearded mystics, before moving into a present-day subway stop where battle soon erupts. Though the sleek choreography seems right out of The Matrix, the weapons don’t. Brightly colored Nerf-style guns and a beeping cardboard tank are soon discarded for imaginary pantomined shotguns, cannons, swords and knives, as characters whirl and spin in hand-to-hand combat.
After the losers succumb and the winner escapes with his prize, janitors clean up the mess, pulling a plastic garbage bag over the head of one “corpse.” (Don’t let your children act that out at home!) Soon the janitors are fighting over juggling pins, keeping them effortlessly in the air even as they jostle for control. Movie clips show the combatants training, meditating and dressing before they invade a fortified base, where a fight with a laser-armed robot degenerates into Robot Dance and double-dutch jump-roping, before the jacket gets stolen.
A mad scientist enhances the Jacket’s power, leading to a final fight with telekinesis, time-freezing, and mind-reading superpowers, before the juggling janitors once again trudge onstage to clean up the mess and start the story over.
So what exactly is NANDA trying to do? Cast member Misha Fradin explains that they’re performing a movie, on stage. “We’ve all watched lots of Jackie Chan and martial arts movies. In the studio, actors have props like wires. We’re trying to do the same thing on stage without all that.” But it’s not all live. Film clips scattered throughout the show tell the story of the characters off-stage, as they meet up, practice their moves, prepare for their raids, or change their costumes. There’s even a “commercial” for the “Costume Change Time Taker Upper 3000,” which my 9-year-old daughter thought was hilarious.
Everything’s performed so well that you don’t realize how much work went into the show. NANDA was formed eight years ago by young men who’ve known each other since they were Port Townsend toddlers, and some of the acts date back several years. “It takes one to three months to develop an act,” Fradin told me, “but three or four years to fine-tune it in front of an audience.” They’ve nailed it by now — the comic timing is impeccable, and the show moves at a fast pace.
NANDA, which performed at Seattle's Broadway Performance Hall in October, and which performs again locally in December (see below), might not be right for every family. You won’t want to take your kids if you abhor violence, or characters dying, or characters who won’t stay dead (resurrection becomes necessary with a cast of only four). There’s also some very loud noise, and a little bit of (off-stage) toilet humor. On the other hand, the children in the audience had a great time, ranging from my entranced 4-year-old daughter, to the 6-year-old boy in front of me, to the boy who proudly showed me his new NANDA DVD, to my 9-year-old daughter who giggled loudly throughout.
If you’re up for a high-energy show that you can enjoy with your kids, watch for NANDA’s return to the Seattle area.
If you go ...
Next shows: NANDA is performing a show titled Christmas Kung Faux at Kirkland Performance Center, on Friday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, December 22 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$35, or $65 VIP tickets. Buy online.
Loralee Leavitt enjoys having adventures with her family. She is the creator of candyexperiments.com, and her book Candy Experiments will be released in January.