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To simply  see the  masks and costumes of the Imago Theatre’s production of “FROGZ,” featured this week at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, is to view true works of art that convincingly and humorously convey the essence of their characters.

But to see the fantastic creations come to life—including huge-headed, gangly frogs and puffed-up, waddling penguins with their beaks held high in the air—is to witness a prime example of a revered tradition of physical theater that has captivated audiences around the world for more than a century.

The genre’s comedic, yet emotive, performances include works of a long line of creative geniuses, including Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Copeau, Marcel Marceau and Jacques Lecoq.

Jerry Mouawad and his wife, Carol Triffle, who launched the Imago Theatre in 1979 and bring  more than 30 years of experience to their productions, studied the style of Lecoq.   Triffle was even trained in France by the master himself.

Mouawad explains that the motivation for the genre began with Lecoq’s predecessor, Copeau.

 “He was tired of the histrionics of the theater and the actors having such big egos about their performances, so he took everything away from the stage and took a cloth and covered up the actor’s face and, from there, said ‘Let’s start all over!’ That was the beginnings of physical theater with masks,” he said.

The  focus on the audience rather than the performers results in productions (sometimes surprisingly interactive) that bring gales of laughter from theatergoers  young and old.

The ideas for Imago Theatre’s subjects are inspired by experiences in day-to-day life, dreams and uniquely intriguing sights. The skits range from a giant paper bag coming to life to a game of literal “Leap Frogz” to a gaggle of penguins vying to claim a chair in a game of musical chairs.

Performed to lilting original musical compositions, the comedic skits have a unique capacity to connect with   audiences as they convey elements of human nature that are familiar to us all.

The actors in Imago Theatre’s productions display a spectrum of skills including artistic and dramatic talent, athleticism and even acrobatics.

Mouawad describes what he and his wife are scouting for in the company’s biannual auditions: “We are looking for not only people who can be immediately cast but also those who can be nurtured to eventually take on a role.

“We have tapped the talents of people who may have zero stage experience but show an innate sense of  theater, movement and comedy that they may not even be aware of. We are looking for someone who has the grace of a dancer, the depth of an actor and the timing of a comedian.”

The direction provided by Mouawad and Triffle is a two-stage process that begins with extreme precision  and then gives performers the freedom to apply that training in expressing their characters in their unique style.

As Mouawad explains, “Once they understand what their being is, they bring their character to life in their own way. We ask them to ‘turn on their penguin,’ for example.”

Imago Theatre has captivated audiences in numerous countries and cultures throughout the world and is scheduled to perform in Egypt this year.

“Jacques Lecoq taught us how to look  at the world in a universal way. We’re applying that, and it’s resonating with audiences,” said Mouawad. “FROGZ is an extremely fun-filled production. When you mix all of that together—a fun, enriching, artistic experience—you’ve got to go! If you miss it, you’ve missed it!”

What: Imago Theatre’s “FROGZ”

Where: The Hylton Performing Arts Center,  George Mason University, Prince William campus, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas

When:  Saturday at 2 p.m.

Cost: $15 adults, $5 children

Info:  888/945-2468;

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.