By no stretch of the imagination is "Ennio!" a play. But it is one of the most playful performances you're likely to see on a local stage this spring.
For a couple of decades now, Ennio Marchetto has been performing his own unique brand of origami drag. With his collaborator Sosthen Hennekam, he cuts, bends, and folds pieces of paper and cardboard. Onstage, Marchetto attaches them to his body in various ingenious ways, then adds adroit movement and expert lip-synching to transform himself into a kind of living paper doll.
In his current show at the Boston Center for the Arts, presented by the Huntington Theatre Company, Marchetto uses this ridiculous and ephemeral medium to create witty, detailed, and often startlingly accurate representations of more than 50 pop-culture icons. Before seeing it, you might wonder how he's managed to sustain such a career for 20 years, touring to more than 70 countries and collecting a few awards along the way. Afterward, you'll only wonder why he isn't better known.
Like drag, mime, and caricature, "Ennio!" relies for its effects on the selection and magnification of a few essential gestures. Like these forms, too, it is amusing only insofar as its audience recognizes the originals on which it is based; you can't admire the parody, or even get it, if you don't know the original.
Marchetto's targets are mostly so universally familiar as to avoid this pitfall - though I did find myself wondering if the kids who instantly start laughing at his broadly sozzled Amy Winehouse would be quite so speedy to recognize the Singing Nun. One moment's pop icon is the next's "whatever happened to?"
Fortunately, however, "Ennio!" has more than just deft caricature going for it. A great part of the delight it provokes comes from the unexpected transitions from one character to the next - that Singing Nun, for example, strumming "Dominique" on her paper guitar, somehow morphed seamlessly out of Kylie Minogue.
That's just one moment of unforeseen brilliance in a show that also includes a mummy unraveling to reveal Cher (a nice riff on her fondness for plastic surgery), who then, somehow, turns into a gleamingly robotic C-3PO. But it would spoil the fun to say too much more about who shows up, and who turns into whom. Suffice it to say that if you're not amused by one character, or even if you're not sure who it is, you won't have to wait long for the next one.
After about an hour of this, Marchetto executes a particularly inventive transformation, using only a simple swath of red crepe paper. The celebrity (who? That would be telling!) emerges and performs, hilariously, and then the lights go down on one last, provocative shift.
"Perfect!" you think. But then - oh no, are the lights coming back up? Doesn't he know that was the perfect ending? Doesn't he know you should always leave them wanting more?
Fear not. He does know it. And, after one last grace note, he does leave us wanting more - or, at least, knowing that we've had exactly enough.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.