Imaginative show launches ‘ovations for young people’

A high-kicking giant. A clumsy cowpoke. A grumpy, pipe-smoking trout fishing beside an imaginary stream.

Welcome to “Masked Marvels & Wondertales,” the eye-popping one-man variety show by Michael Cooper, the virtuoso storyteller, mask-maker and mime.

Michael Cooper as a pipe-smoking fish, one of the colorful characters that make “Masked Marvels” lively and distinct.

The special one-day-only show — which launches Edison Theatre’s spring ovations for young people series — takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, in the 560 Music Center. The performance is a change from the originally scheduled event Jan. 24.

Combining the mythical and the autobiographical, Cooper employs astonishingly detailed masks as well as impressive physical dexterity to tell original stories that highlight the presence of the miraculous in everyday occurrences.

Vignettes include “The Baby,” inspired by the birth of Cooper’s first child; “The Horse,” which pays homage to his father, a veterinarian who courted Cooper’s mother on horseback; and “Fish-or-Man,” in which he asks the audience “How do you think a fish would feel … if he were the one winding the reel?”

But the stars of the show are Cooper’s exquisite masks, each of which can take up to 300 hours to make. Working primarily with scavenged materials, Cooper begins by ripping paper bags or old cloth into small pieces that are then dipped into glue and laminated over a carefully crafted clay sculpture.

Once the layers dry, the clay is dug out and removed, leaving just the hollowed-out mask ready for final flourishes, which often includes some clever engineering. The fish mask, for example, can blow bubbles from its mouth, while Cooper’s wind creature features spinning limbs mounted on an old bicycle wheel.

Born and raised in rural Maine — where he still resides — Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree in peace studies from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., where he also developed an interest in performance. He spent six years training with two of the greatest mime teachers of the 20th century: Etienne Decroux of Paris, France, and Tony Montanaro of Paris, Maine.

Today, Cooper spends roughly half of each year on the road performing “Masked Marvels & Wondertales,” a show he has continually developed for close to three decades, in more than 8,000 performances. Credits range from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Hong Kong International Children’s Festival to The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, the Dublin Theater Festival and the Great Woods Center near Boston.

The ovations for young people series presents specially priced Saturday matinee shows for audiences of all ages. Following “Masked Marvels & Wondertales,” the series will continue Feb. 28 with the Ahn Trio, three Julliard trained sisters who breathe new life into the standard piano-trio repertoire. The series will conclude March 28 with Diavolo, the high-flying Los Angeles dance company.

Tickets to “Masked Marvels & Wondertales” are $10. Subscriptions to all three ovations for young people events are available at $6 each.

Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.