Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Biggest Marionette Circus in the World

We went into this show expecting little. Hopefully some big marionettes that would be interesting and amusing. Well, we got that. The marionette work was not world-class, more at the novice level, really, but the giant size of some of the animals made up for that a bit, and added some novelty. There was a little clowning, which honestly was somewhat tiresome because of a lack of listening between the clowns. They barely seemed to know each other were there, much less to meaningfully interact. An exception to this was a fun interaction between a Strong Man and a butterfly, which was fun, amusing, and had great interplay between actors. The glue that held the show together was the ringmaster. He had a weird, dreamlike quality that made him immediately interesting, and both friendly and alien at the same time. The show starts with two clowns (wearing hats that hide their face – immediately putting them at a performance disadvantage) messing about with a mechanical key, trying to start the show. They wind up the various marionettes, but still no show. The ringmaster, feigning unconsciousness, but winking to the audience, finally manipulates them into winding him up so the show can begin. He then “wakes up”, not at all clear about his identity, or where he is… then finally, in a strange but clear European accent, “Ah! I see! Ringmaster!” and looking out at the audience, “Ah… oh! Yes! I remember! Children! Yes, and parents! Yes, I remember!” This strange introduction immediately takes us to an Our Town kind of place – where could he have been that he forgotten about the existence of parents and children? He then assumes the role of ringmaster, introducing the various marionette animal acts. He is always right there with the audience, wanting to help, but often going into strange asides, where he acts like a trustworthy figure, but simultaneously is the kind of person you wouldn’t want your kids left alone with, as his advice and ideas are strange, and he does not have very good control over his strange show. This weirdness creates multiple levels that help keep adults interested – but I felt like where the show falls down a bit is connecting with the kids. At multiple times in the show, the ringmaster tries to involve the audience in call and response to encourage the performers, but he makes the rookie mistake of vagary, saying things like “Help the strong man out, make some noise!” instead of saying “Clap for the strong man!” or “On the count of three, shout, ‘You can do it!’” this vagary left the feedback loop between audience and actors in a watery state, and denied the audience the rush of power that comes from being part of a mass chant that has a real effect. The show is clever, and has its charms, but it also has its sloppy and amateur side. With some tightening, polish, and a little more meaning (Why are we here? What is the message for the audience, exactly?) this okay show could become very great indeed. 

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