If you come into Nothing Is Something expecting a tight narrative with clear character arcs, you're going to disappointed. The show is best appreciated if you allow the physical and absurd humor to take over in a piece that's equal parts Charlie Chaplin and Looney Tunes.
The play takes place in a single room dotted with holes. When a character sticks his arm into one, his hand may come out elsewhere.
The concept fuels many of the visual jokes created by Noah Sommers Haas and Liz Schachterle, who represent a new generation for the 15-year-old Open Eye Figure Theatre. It's a showcase for their skills with silent-film-like scenes, where they deliver comedy from objects as simple as a piece of string, a beaten-up desk, and a bouncing ball.
Throughout its history, Open Eye has been the playground of Michael Sommers and Susan Haas, who have presented a legion of inventive and entertaining shows in their tiny space on East 24th Street, as well as in driveways and backyards around the Twin Cities.
As you might have guessed, Sommers Haas is a chip off the old block. The son of Open Eye's founders has been seen in several breakout roles recently, including the lead in one of last year's best shows, Strumply Peter. Schacterle has been making her mark as a performer and puppeteer.
The pair plays two halves of the same character, named Oldie and Goodie. They look like a mix of Chaplin's tramp and a refugee from Waiting for Godot, wearing ragged, dirty, mismatched clothes and uttering only the occasional word.
Each bit flows to the next, starting with Sommers Haas alone on stage, before being joined by his identically dressed counterpart. Much of the action centers on our tramp's favorite possession: a jangling blue ball (perhaps he was a cat in an earlier life). It gets lost in the rubbery physics of the room, and it is up to our pair to get it back.
Those simple ideas spread quickly into a series of visual jokes, as the beloved ball goes through several transformations — a pile of putty here, emerging from a giant snowball there.
These descriptions don't do the action justice, in part because Sommers Haas and Schachterle are such engaging performers, using their loose-limbed bodies like musical instruments.
The show was built through improvisation. Toss in terrific sound and music design and the talents of four puppeteers who get to play the various "stunt" hands, and you have a complete evening.
The message: There's a difference between being alone and being lonely, especially if you can keep your imagination sharp.
Nothing Is Something opened on Susan Haas's 60th birthday, and while Open Eye's creators don't look to be leaving any time soon, invigorating performers wait in the wings.
IF YOU GO:
Nothing Is Something Open Eye Figure Theatre 506 E. 24th St. Minneapolis 612-874-6338 $10-$15 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays Through March 8