Monday, December 03, 2007

Australia’s Anti-Circus is Right at Home in Berkeley

Holiday Look Backs, this from 2007

Circus Review: Circus Oz at Zellerbach Hall,Berkeley, Saturday, 2 p.m., December 1. $26 to $48

I think it’s time for me and the anti-circus to part company. A no-fault divorce on principle alone. This is hardly a circus. This is a subversive and sometimes very funny stage show referencing circus acts in the act of deconstructing them, same way it takes glee in tearing down sexual norms and old-hat morality. We are not in a ring. We are in a moody underground night club for disgruntled losers somewhere on the outskirts of a world gone half-mad. Could it be that the Aussies behind this operation suffer the guilt of their own Nevil Shute having novelized the end of the world in his nuclear war tale, On The Beach? Chilly. Poignant. Out there ...

Circus Oz lacks the will of its perversity to be a full-force theatrical onslaught. This time out, they reach their comedy highpoint trashing the flying trapeze. While bumbling about in the air, they and their rig come tumbling down. Deliciously amusing. There’s a dramatic end point here worth a play, if only somebody would have the courage to write it.

Circus acts? Mostly amateurs laboring hard to resemble the “death defying daredevils, hilarious humans, astonishing acrobats,” promised on Circus Oz fliers. This is the “Laughing at Gravity Tour” in which only a few performers show real stuff: Rockie Stone impresses on a cloud swing; Showmanly Joel Salom, a three-club juggling charmer, keeps two in motion while attempting to remove his shirt and ends up without his pants. Oh, the inner Aussie longing to go au natural. Not a problem for the show’s star, a horny little very witty robotic dog who cracks, “Yeah, I know why you really came here. You want to check out my balls.”

Rowdy Innuendos and phallic symbols (a central prop being a banana, sans condom) fly high and wide. Gender bending proceeds apace at the anti-circus. I was wondering if the clowns would enact a sex change on a low wire. Or maybe two politicians getting arrested for practicing Risley in a public restroom stall. And to think, this affair was pitched as a family package. Well no, not to think — after all, we are in the San Francisco Bay Area, a land of progressive mortals who would rather commit collective suicide than be seen as intolerantly conventional.

Perhaps it’s now considered hip to subject moppets to the kind of vulgarity (pardon me, sophistication) that will sooner than later stalk them everywhere they look. Such a bleak brittle landscape, though, and from the same country that gave us my favorite contemporary pop composer, Paul Hardcastle. He is not here. Hard rock is.

A scantily clad cabaret singer played like a stripper by Christa Hughes brings things to a close by promising to give us everything we want. Up to her ankle for a taste of skin runs dogie robot, itching to get down. Hoops of fire encircle acrobats.

When is a circus not a circus? When it is mostly something other than a circus. That’s when. And Oz is that, perhaps brilliantly so. Make no mistake, I admire their daffy creativity and dark satiric bombast. I just wish they would come clean on the “circus” angle and go for a performance piece with real dramatic force. I can almost picture a post-apocalyptic nuclear wrap-up party with side show banners burning, cross-dressing elephants rampaging down on the beach, dogie robot and Muscle Lady going at it. Now, that might get them three or four stars from me..

But ... Circus Oz, since you persist in using (and I do mean using – or should I say abusing) the word “circus” so shamelessly to haul in family audiences to your big top boudoir of lonely unrequited sleaze, I’m gonna judge you as a circus. Fair is fair?

I’m out of this tent.

Overall rating: 1- 1/2 stars (out of 4 possible)


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