Aerial theatre company Sky Candy was created to mount a show like this, but it juggles too much to be effective
Reviewed by Dan Solomon, Fri., June 28, 2013
The CircusScottish Rite Theatre, 207 W. 18th
Through June 29
Running time: 1 hr., 40 min.
It's been a good past couple of months for circuses in Austin theatre, and the newest show from Sky Candy – called, simply, The Circus – is a brightly colored addition to a run that's seen circuses in the air, on the stage, and in puppet form.
On paper, The Circus is the show that Sky Candy was created to produce. The theatre company is rooted in the idea of combining impressive aerial feats – using rings, trapeze, silks, and more – with scripted narrative storytelling and acting. These are plays first, with the dazzling acrobatics intended to illustrate the story. At its best, the company's work is a seamless way to enjoy the normally plotless aerial gymnastics in a more emotionally resonant manner; at its worst, it's a confusing muddle that leaves an audience wondering why, exactly, there's a dude on rings while those people are talking.
The Circus falls somewhere between the two. It's intuitive that a circus arts company would make a play about a circus, and the aerial work integrates well into the story. The problem is that, with so many characters and subplots – and a front-loaded first act that runs over an hour – it's difficult to actually care about any of the proceedings.
Ringmaster Horatio (Justin LaVergne) manages a run-down circus in the heyday of Barnum & Bailey. A somewhat shady character, he keeps his crew and performers running with him from town to town, always promising a payday in the near future. In his center ring are the Flying Piccolos, brother-and-sister acrobats (Noah Bickford and Jamie Roberts) who are being pushed to try tricks they're not prepared for, as Horatio attempts to wow audiences and restore the circus to its former glory.
But the play also juggles storylines involving a lonely strongman, thieving clowns, a gorilla in love with its human companion, a girl who ran away to join the circus, a feisty snake charmer, and – for some reason – a talking lion. Plot threads are introduced and then discarded (Why did she run away to join the circus? Is the lion really talking?), and we're never really given a reason to care about Horatio – either as a villain to hate or an anti-hero to root for. Instead, we get a lot of ponderous scenes of him watching the ghost of his wife on the trapeze or of clowns having extended pie fights on the floor.
The Circus, in the end, isn't exactly bad – it's just, fatally, boring. The show has Saturday and Sunday matinees at kid-friendly Scottish Rite, but even the adults in the audience are likely to get fidgety after that long first act. The play attempts to make up for that by rushing through the second act, but by then, the damage is done – we don't really need a resolution, we just need to go home.