La Famiglia Dimitri
nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
March 29, 2009
Some people run away from home to join the circus, but not the members of La Famiglia Dimitri; their family already is a circus. Clown "Papa" Dimitri and three adult children David, Masha, and Nina Dimitri, with son-in-law Kai LeClerc team up to present a show at the New Victory that will amaze and inspire that dreaming runaway child in anyone. The Dimitris invite the audience not only to suspend disbelief, but perhaps also the law of gravity.
The enchanting show is prop-heavy, dialogue-light, and rich in performance forms that have been delighting for centuries. Highly-skilled clowning in the European tradition by Clown and Kai share the stage with tight wire and slack wire acrobatics (David and Masha respectively), a goofy twist on contortionism, and illusions. There is even a juggling interlude that includes a few things I hadn't seen before, like juggling blasts of water. Warning: if you are sitting in the first six rows, don't make fun of the juggler. There are several moments that are given a lift with modern rigging and technology, but the show is based in a great tradition that relies on human talent and technique to create magic, rather than electronic computer-generated excitement.
Each artist is credited with only one specialty in the program, and each certainly is a master, giving the kind of performance that makes doing a Chinese ribbon dance on a slack wire, a back-flip on a tight wire, or drinking a glass of water upside down eight feet above the floor look so effortless and natural that I briefly had delusions that my daughter and I could do them too—after all, I did take that circus class in college and she's pretty fierce on the monkey bars... However, each member of the Dimitri clan has more than one trick (or spare jump rope) up his or her sleeve. As the troupe assembled on stage riding a variety of bicycles and unicycles, my daughter gave her first of many sotto voce "wows." After a few more minutes of rapt attention, she informed me, "you have to practice to be able to do that."
Nina is the only Dimitri listed as a musician in the program, but every single member of the troupe plays at least three instruments including guitars, trumpets, a tuba, an accordion, a dumbek, a humongous round-back mariachi guitar, whistles, a cajon drum, and alpenhorns. Did I mention the Dimitris hail from Switzerland? They all sing (and yes, yodel), in multiple languages as well. Clown Dimitri is the heart of the performance, but the live music and Nina's singing form the interstitial tissue, weaving together the disparate clowning, acrobatic, and burlesque acts. In fact, the acoustic unamplified music is such an essential part of the performance that, after the show, my daughter told her friends she had seen a concert of acrobats.
As we walked down into the subway, a mere 20 steps from the theater entrance, my daughter informed me she is not planning to be a musician and an acrobat after all. "When I grow up, I'm going to be a surgeon." What a heartbreak! I wonder if mommies can run away to join the circus? Whether you are a child, have children, or just need a break from the confines of logic and gravity, a visit with La Famiglia Dimitri at The New Victory is a magical way to spend the afternoon.