nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 5, 2005
Here's a fancy way of describing Rain: it's a theatre piece that uses the techniques of postmodernism to deconstruct the notion of circus, in order to reconstruct the wonder and awe that circus is about.
And now, some plainer language: breathtaking, stunning, soaring, joyous, gorgeous. It's the most gloriously imaginative and engaging family entertainment that I know of (and a lot less expensive than some I could name, such as one that involves a flying car that's playing in a theatre right next door). Take everyone you love to see Rain this summer.
The show takes place on the stage of a theatre, possibly the one we're in, where a play about a circus is in rehearsal. At the outset, we see a narrator who, we soon discover, is also a spectacularly talented postmodern clown, standing in for the author Daniele Finzi Pasca by delivering a poetic prologue about rekindling childlike wonder in the theatre. The clown/narrator's heavily French-accented English is constantly being corrected by a stern director/taskmistress just off to the side. Images—from the author's imagination or memory, or maybe just glimpses of acts warming up somewhere else in the theatre—tantalizingly materialize: a trapeze artist, acrobats stretching, a small brass band silently parading by. When the speech is over, we watch, for a moment, a young woman fly through the air on a swing whose supports are bungee cords, and she gleefully yells "wheeeeee" every time she soars above the ground. We can tell that we're already where Pasca has told us he wants to take us. For the next two hours, wonder—pure and simple—ensues.
Feats of extraordinary ability dominate Rain. Stéphane Gentilini, the clown/narrator I told you about, is also an expert juggler and manipulator of objects, balancing pins on his back and shoulder as he keeps half a dozen more in the air, and executing a "suitcase act" that is gently hilarious. Nadine Louis is a contortionist, and the skit in which two of her colleagues "torture" her by stuffing her into a valise made the smaller fry in the house squirm and then giggle. Jonas Woolverton specializes in the Roue Cyr, a giant hoop which he rides like a surfer on the ocean. Oksana Burliy is, among other things, a gymnast, and her routine on the Banquine & Russian Bar (a flexible balance beam supported by two very strong men) is astonishing. Jean-Philippe Cuerrier is one of the men holding up that Bar, and also figures in routines showcasing his strength ("Strong Men"; very funny), his dexterity (juggling with Gentilini), and musical prowess (on the saxophone). Catherine Girard is featured in the act just before closing, on aerial hoops; she also performs, with Aimée Janaan Hancock in a trapeze duo that feels like ballet in the air. Polish acrobats Bartlomiej Pankau and Jacek Wyskup stop the show cold with their "Hand to Hand" routine in which the one balances the other in a variety of remarkable ways and poses. Krin Maren Haglund is Rain's deft comedienne and narrates the second act with wistful charm. And even pianist Jocelyn Bigras gets in the act, performing one of his numbers while hovering over his piano stool (courtesy of one of the strong men in the company).
Throughout, we—and they—remain conscious of the framing device, with some of the segments including what feel like built-in mistakes and goofs while others are done just as they would be if the show were "for real" and not a rehearsal. But the presentations themselves are NEVER self-conscious, which is one of the things I loved best about Rain: there's no Penn & Teller or Flying Karamazov cynicism to be found here. These folks believe in and love what they do, and they're not about to give away any secrets or undermine their work's visceral beauty by poking fun at our willingness to believe and love right back.
Which is not to say that Rain is without humor—it's very funny, with several inspired moments of slapstick and silliness that make the audience laugh loud and long.
But the main emotion in this show is unadulterated joy. At the end of Girard's aerial hoop segment, the stage starts to flood with water; she completes her routine with some gentle splashing that presages a finale that's unforgettably and ineffably magical. I won't say what happens except that, as the title of the show suggests, everyone on stage gets very, very wet: child's play in a nurturing storm.