By James Bartholomew
Not many mimes are known for their storytelling prowess, but not many mimes are Bill Bowers. Once described as “America’s postmodern mime” ‑ a description the performer admits to not really understanding ‑ Mr. Bowers forgoes the makeup, the stripes and the sealed lips entirely. Having spent the last thirty years touring the world and showcasing his fascinating penchant for pantomime, Mr. Bowers has built up quite the backlog of ridiculous and hilarious stories. Stories that he is more than happy to share with his audience in “All Over the Map.”
“All Over the Map” begins with its jovial performer entering the stage to Johnny Cash’s version of the classic country song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Listening to the man himself, it’s hard to argue with him. From humble beginnings in Missoula, Montana, Mr. Bowers has traveled to all fifty states, twenty‑five countries, and four continents, performing in just about every venue you can imagine, from sold‑out theatres filled with Amsterdam socialites to one‑room Amish schoolhouses filled with confused children and disapproving elders.
Of course, Mr. Bowers isn’t afraid to show his audience the talents that have made him such a worldwide sensation. He takes an early opportunity in the show to mime the story of a farmer who is so infatuated with the moon that he lassos it out of the night sky, playing with it briefly before tossing it back with a hefty throw. Everything the farmer touches, from his tools, to his lasso, to the moon itself all feel appropriately weighty and animated. Every movement is believable, and even commonplace mime tricks, like pulling on a heavy rope, are so simple and readable in their deliberate execution that it takes a second to realize that Mr. Bowers is doing anything out of the ordinary at all.
Moments like that are only interludes between the performer’s tales of travel, however. Even that story of the farmer stealing the moon connects to Mr. Bowers’s childhood in Montana, and later plays into his aforementioned performance for a small Amish community. Over time, the specifics of Mr. Bowers’s act become less important than the man himself and his bizarre adventures. The stories themselves are not told chronologically and often only last as long as it takes to get to a quick, yet well‑earned punchline. As difficult as some of these stories are to believe, Mr. Bowers swears that they are all true. Like his father once told him, “You should always tell the truth ‑ that way, it’s easier to remember.”
But it’s not just the outrageousness of the stories that makes “All Over the Map” a must‑see. Mr. Bowers’s relaxed and casual demeanor makes every laugh feel like it’s delivered over a dinner table between friends. Without the pressure of an overarching narrative, Mr. Bowers is free to present himself authentically, and the result is a show that feels natural and effortless for its performer. He speaks with a near‑constant smirk and a palpable excitement to fill the room with laughter.
That’s not to say that “All Over the Map” shies away from the serious. As the show goes on, more and more of Mr. Bowers’s vignettes focus on his sexuality and his hosts’ reaction to it. He speaks about his experience performing in Warsaw days after a prominent gay rights sculpture had been burned, remade, and burned again. In Macedonia, Mr. Bowers speaks openly about his gay identity, but is met with surprise and awe from hosts too afraid to do the same.
These stories, both the cheerful and the bittersweet, speak to a greater faith in humanity and a reverence for deep, personal connection. So much of “All Over the Map” focuses on the stark differences between its performer and the wild people he encounters, but just about every story ends with solidarity and unity. While that might sound sappy, Mr. Bowers’s unique charisma and brilliant comedic timing make cynicism impossible. “All Over the Map” is a show of light‑hearted, life‑affirming laughs, and it is not to be missed.
“All Over the Map”
Performed by Bill Bowers
Directed by Martha Banta
September 29th at 2PM
Photo: courtesy of Maria Baranova Photography
United Solo 2019
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
Follow us on Facebook
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW is a writer and musician living in New York City. He is an administrator of the Fordham University Theatre Program and an avid lover of the arts.