A roomful of air and happy kids

Balloons and kids were made for each other. Fred Garbo is a grown-up kid and he knows this. He has a touring show called Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theater Company and he "blew" into town last weekend, to the delight of many local children — and adults.

As the press release points out, this is something you definitely won't see every day, although lots of people have seen the show. It has enjoyed sold-out runs on Broadway and around the world. And to think, there it was on stage at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.

I took my two grandsons and their mom, my daughter-in-law, to see the show. We were joined by Mail Tribune entertainment writer Bill Varble. As he and I both would discover, trying to describe what we had seen to our co-workers and spouses was almost impossible.

When we arrived, Craterian staff members were wearing a helium-filled balloon attached to their backs so the balloons hovered over their heads like a halo or some alien life-support system. Definitely other-worldly.

And airy.

Air was the star of the show. Air filled the brightly colored shapes that crawled out on stage as if on their own power. Air filled the sofas and chairs that served as props. And air kept the huge cubes and spheres aloft in the auditorium at the end of the show when we all had a chance to be part of the fun.

Recorded music accompanied the various skits, ranging from ambient and New Age to disco beats. Much of the performance was done without any speaking. That explained how easily it could be enjoyed in other countries. When Garbo did speak, he displayed even more of the wry humor that gives the show its appeal.

He is accompanied by a single assistant, Krista Paulsen, a native of South Korea who grew up in Iowa and has danced with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and Chicago's Luna Negra Dance Theater. She fills in when Garbo needs a breather and also helps animate some of the shapes.

Something was always happening on stage, and yet the mood was relaxed, not frenetic. When Garbo juggled some of the huge shapes, they floated high above the stage and slowly drifted back to earth just in time for Garbo to tap them back up again. It almost could have been ballet.

When he and Paulsen juggled silk scarves together it was like they were underwater, and the scarves were gracefully undulating in the current.

At one point, a giant red cube appeared on stage. The music and the mood became slightly menacing as the cube sidled up to the edge of the stage, teetering slowly and precariously toward the audience before retreating harmlessly back into the center of the stage, where it deflated, revealing Garbo.

The show ended with Garbo opening a trunk and taking out a large inflatable dog, which he climbed into and romped about the stage much to the joyful relief of my two little guys. They had seen the dog in a poster for the show and were waiting for him.

After he climbed out of the dog suit, Garbo was joined by Paulsen and the two walked to the edge of the stage to joyous applause.

"Do something beautiful with your life," he said, then turned and left as several large air-filled shapes found their way into the audience. One of them was a giant pumpkin, maybe four or five feet in diameter. Another was an equally large cube, and another was a big striped tube.

The kids in the audience — which by that time were all of us — gleefully batted the shapes around and up into the air, onto the heads of those in the rows around us, and eventually back to the stage. By that time, Garbo was out in the lobby signing postcards for his new fans.

Garbo said there are no deep themes or hidden meanings in his show. After all, it's just air.

"It's entertainment," he said. "It's to displace people's belief and have them forget."

But he is clearly doing something very beautiful with his life.

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