Remember when circuses were innocent, before they became multi million dollar extravaganzas? A physical mishap, facial expression, or show of skill was sufficient to evoke laughter and applause. Story lines as uncomplicated as nascent jealousy or the disagreements of a Punch and Judy type couple would captivate. Chorus girls didn’t add filler between acts.
The charming Sunset Circus, a company of seven multi-talented professionals, creates just that beguiling atmosphere. Children giggle, point, call out and clap. No one shushes them. When two game adults are conscripted to do a little dance, it’s wistful rather than embarrassing. Sophistication comes too early to kids these days. Here’s a chance to let in a bit of wonder.
Randy Kato and the Cyr Wheel (Photo by Maike Schultz)
Performers wander into a simple set of trunks, props and a rope hung from above. A warm-up of improvised interaction gives little ones a chance to settle down. Costumes (Julie Michael and Estefania Zambrano) are charming, unpretentious. Roman (Kyle Driggs) sweeps the stage. He also juggles a bit eliciting he-can-DO-that?! looks from the others. “Welcome one and all” ringmaster George (Joel Jeske) declares as his wife Margueritte (Shereen Hickman) whips off a lunch bib he forgot to remove. (Here’s your Punch and Judy couple.) The company dances.
Luca (Ryan Shinji Murray) somersaults over a table, George balances a four legged chair on his chin, Philippe (Randy Kato) whips the blossom off a long stemmed rose held in a woman’s teeth. He then climbs into into a giant ring = Cyr Wheel. Holding/bracing one hand and one leg on the frame, the artist spins. All four limbs make an X, he’s upside-down and sideways. The ring rotates faster, then slower as he jumps in and out connected and withdrawing. Luca and Philippe wind themselves into a bolt of silk which, unwound, instead reveals Marguerite.
George, who has a shaved head under his formal top hat, returns in a ridiculous wig. He sneezes. The wig flops forward. Never one to let a laugh go unmined, he plays with the moment. The kids love it. Jeske is a highly respected, master clown. He captivates with a manipulated hat, balances what appears to be a 7’ stepladder (ouch), does magic with empty cylinders that reveal multiplying beer bottles, (much to Marguerite’s chagrin), and, as head of the troop, grows apoplectic when things occur about which he wasn’t consulted. Jeske has a well honed sense of timing and fun.
George and Marguerite do a vaudeville number with a ukulele. He sings well, she’s absurdly operatic. Luca, Philippe and George juggle balls. Roman shows what he can with up to six balls- under a knee, over his head, hand to hand, in twos and threes. He juggles pink umbrellas which drift down, sometimes gently landing upon one another – lovely. Luca climbs a high stack of right side-up/upside-down chairs and does a handstand. A hush falls over the theater with each additional chair. Even the kids hold their breath.
Joel Jeske and Shereen Hickman
Daughter Claire (Stephanie Keaton) performs an aerial ballet on the suspended rope. Held by a knee, an arm, an ankle, a loop of rope, she twists, extends limbs into a split, an arabesque; slides down, flips over, curls and twirls. Later younger sister Lilly (Ingrid Apgar) defies George to debut an equally graceful, balletic trapeze act featuring attractive shapes and inversions. Recognizing skill, her father congratulates her. “My daughter was here,” he indicates 3’ tall, “Now she’s here,” he raises this palm to Lilly’s height. “I feel ya,” an audience member calls out.
One act overlaps the next as characters relate to one another. There’s a family feeling. Roman and Claire are a couple. George finally makes an effort with Margueritte. The performers come out afterwards to talk to the audience.
Original Score by Peter Bufano is thoroughly appealing.
Parallel Exit presents Sunset Circus
Directed by Mark Lonergan
Written by Joel Jeske
At the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center
Amsterdam Avenue at 76 Street NEXT SHOWS: February 11th at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.