In his early 20s, Jerry Mouawad became obsessed with making masks — so much so that he made a career out of it.
Mouawad is one of the co-creators of “Frogz,” a production from Imago Theatre that combines miming and acrobatics with illusion. He and co-creator Carol Triffle first toured the show in 1979. Since then, “Frogz” has been on Broadway twice and appeared on multiple continents.
While there are plenty of tricks used in theater, Mouawad says even the best performers cannot replace what a mask and puppet does. Masks have a life of their own, he said, that people “can’t really quite understand.”
“They are inanimate objects, but if you make a mask — a well-designed mask — the mask will change expressions and change from one extreme to the other,” Mouawad said. “The mask may be very noble, but at the next moment it may be very feeble.”
Mouawad describes “Frogz” more like an “observance of an unusual event” rather than a story with characters and a plotline. Some pieces in the production have a special effect, while others — like Larvabatic — rely on simple tricks of the mind.
Larvabatic features a cast member dressed as a larva doing a handstand center stage while slowly swinging their abdomen in a circle. Plenty of audiences members watching scratch their heads and wonder how someone could have so much core strength to do so, but it’s a simple trick — the actor is on their feet, but the costume is upside down.
“On the surface, it looks like it’s not a high form of art — but it is — even if it is more family oriented,” said Mouawad.
The production swings from penguins playing musical chairs to a sloth circus. Mouawad said he and his team wanted their work to resonate with children and adults on a high, sophisticated level.
“It’s the nuances of the physical comedy that is really funny for both the kids and the adults,” said Mouawad. “Also, there’s something about the human condition that’s in (Penguins) as well, where people are always competing with each other or comparing each other to each other with peer pressure … in musical chairs. If you want to, you can kind of make that leap as an adult.”
Mouawad and his team’s ultimate goal of “Frogz” was to to create a work that appealed to 99 percent of the world, which means finding universal moments that resonate with just about everyone.
“That’s a really hard thing to do,” said Mouawad.
But when touring internationally, Mouawad realized it was possible. In many cases, he could only communicate with the crowd through physical gestures. Even if they didn’t speak the same language, “Frogz” could still be interpreted by audiences around the world.
“It’s beyond words and it's beyond cultural boundaries,” said Mouawad.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, April 12-13
Where: Atwood Concert Hall in Anchorage
Tickets: $26.75-$49.25 at centertix.com