Circus Contraption's Grand American Traveling Dime Museum
nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
August 16, 2006
If you like high-quality traditional circus acts with a freakish, gross, or sexy twist, then Circus Contraption is for you. A dime museum curio inspires each act, and puppets and outrageous costumes are everywhere. A live band spiced with accordions, tubas, and slide whistles keeps the energy high and the rhythm of the show exact. The set is a Byzantine amalgamation of levels, ladders, and shadows and the walls are festooned with jackalopes, pygmy skeletons, and Fiji mermaids. The ringmaster wears a bowler hat and chomps a cigar, and everywhere there is a dirty, mysterious, French boudoir-type feel. The program credits "acts, music, costumes, props, and set by Circus Contraption (with help from a cast of thousands)" proving their visual theatrical prowess is on par with their gifts as circus performers.
The acts all have a darkly comic sensibility. There is an act where three fetus puppets pickled in jars sing a little melody with the refrain, "I want my mummy." There are also great corny jokes, like a section on the history of the early human, which showed man inventing the wheel and the first mode of transportation, the unicycle, and the second, the bicycle . . . the joke goes on from there. There are traditional acts done in unusual ways, like a juggling act with glowing balls that takes place entirely in the dark. And it is sexy: at one point, a woman poses provocatively as if she is in a series of French postcards (a scene that they hilariously spoof in the second act.)
While all the performers are skilled and charismatic and all the acts are imaginative, there are a few that deserve special note. Evelyn Bittner and husband Jason Williams do a beautiful counterbalancing routine; she seems to fly through the air while he rolls around on the ground effortlessly passing her from hand to hand. Sari Breznau's singing is another highlight. Her first number, a little piece called "Nickelodeon," is charming, but her real moment to shine is a wild opera send-up in the second act. Wearing a huge black and white gown with a headpiece that looks like antlers, she passionately sings about how upset she is that her man doesn't notice all the little things she does for him, like shape his pancakes and fold his underwear.
For the final act, every member of the company has two beer bottles for musical instruments. This means each person is only capable of making a few notes. But the company times each of their individual blows, so together they are creating a song. And that is what watching the whole show is like, with so many individual, well-timed moments coming together to create a seamless experience.