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Tomas Kubinek Fills Zellerbach with Wonder Over Weekend

Let’s put performance artist Tomás Kubínek in terms Americans can understand: he’s kind of like Christopher Lloyd if Christopher Lloyd did magic/experimental theater/acrobatics. He's a mad, science-less scientist with an unbelievable sense of humor and wit and theater, and an avuncular rapscallion with a big brain and bigger heart. His audiences are devoted and loving, and growing the world over.

Count the crowd present at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley campus over the Thanksgiving weekend among the newly charmed. Kubinek welcomed a packed house Friday afternoon to his absurd temporary home onstage: A chair, a table and a coat rack framed his bizarre, circus-like world, a place filled with wonder and silliness, where man can fly and fourth walls never existed.

He spent the one-hour show climbing over the audience, among other expectation-defying acts. Kubinek, who looks to be 50-something with his troll doll-like gray hair shape-shifting throughout, is still astonishingly athletic in his mid-life. He bent in ways only gymnasts should bend, at one point picking up a glass of wine off his forehead with his knees, setting it down on the ground, picking it back up without the benefit of his hands — which were focused on the ukulele he played for the duration of the trick — and drinking it down, much to our delight and jealousy (see photo below). This is a guy you want at your party.

He also proved himself a clumsy but somehow graceful dancer, with the aid of a surreal, inane invention. Two shoes (exact replicas of the sizable black shoes he was already wearing) preceded Kubinek’s actual feet, attached like stilts to his knees, so that one of these three feet on each leg was always touching the ground when he moved. The invention’s real-life utility may be zero sum, but onstage Kubinek harnessed its full handicapping capacity, at first nearly falling into the crowd, but eventually pirouetting stage left to stage right like a White Swan’s grandfather.
His signature trick involves a harness and wings, a Peter Pan-like moment for the kids and kids inside the older, balder kids. As he flew in circles above the stage, we were reminded that even before CGI, anything was possible with a little suspended disbelief.

Much in the same way Mr. Bean captured the hearts and minds of a generation a decade ago, Kubinek exercises our hope with well-intentioned naivete. But he’s a bit more sly; when he came back onstage for his curtain call, throwing roses at his own feet, the clumsiness was officially registered as a mirage, and the virtuoso showman exposed.

Above, Tomas Kubinek goes to great lengths to get a sip of his wine.

@ChrisTrenchard