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Detroit-based group competes on truTV's 'Fake Off'

Mekeisha Madden Toby
Special to The Detroit News

The YFX Physical Theatre troupe is ready for its close up.

The Detroit-based mime, puppetry and illusion group is one of 10 national companies competing for acclaim and the $100,000 prize on truTV's new visual arts competition series, "Fake Off." The show airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. and, with the help of judges Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas of TLC, Harry Shum Jr. of "Glee," and visual and concept designer Michael Curry, the show challenges troupes to reimagine iconic moments in pop culture to see who's the most creative and skilled.

"It's a great opportunity to explore something as exciting and new as an emerging form of stage performance," said Todd Farley, the creator and leader behind YFX, which also incorporates acrobatics. "It's fun being on a TV show and recreating entertaining moments with surprising twists."

YFX's latest challenge was to come up with a science-fiction themed showcase. The group delivered with a thrilling battle of good versus evil between "Star Wars" villain and hero Darth Maul and Yoda, with the little green Jedi Master getting a mighty assist from "Star Trek's" Mr. Spock.

Chilli enjoyed the performance, which aired on last week's show, so much she said she wanted to jump on stage and be a part of the brawl. But Curry said the fight choreography was "too soft" and criticized the shadow performers for being too conspicuous.

Such detractions, as well as low scores, put YFX at the bottom of the show's leaderboard. And when "Fake Off" airs tonight, YFX's nine-person troupe will have to fight back with an unforgettable performance in order to avoid elimination.

Its biggest competition so far is the New Orleans-based Lightwire Theater, a puppet troupe that performs breathtaking, glow-in-the-dark shows with the help of electroluminescent wire. YFX is also competing against PUSH Physical Theatre. Based in Rochester, New York, PUSH is headed by one of Farley's former students, Darren Stevenson.

But viewers shouldn't count YFX out.

The company's name, YFX, stands for Young Phoenix Rising and the group is housed on the third floor of the historic Saint John and Saint Luke United Church of Christ on Russell Street, not too far from Eastern Market.

In other words, being perceived as underdogs has never stopped a very determined YFX from rising to any occasion or challenge. What is most important to Farley is to see Detroit's theatrical community bask in the national spotlight once again and he hopes YFX can help make that a reality.

"This has been a fascinating journey with some of the world's best theater companies," said Farley, who has 35 years of international touring experience. "We all approach theater in different ways. We established ourselves to be a part of Detroit's revival. There was a time when Detroit was only second to Broadway in theater. With the revival that is currently taking place, I'd like to see that image revived."

Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles based TV critic.

'Fake Off'

10 p.m. Mondays