Monday, November 22, 2010

PBS at the Big Apple Circus, Last Rueful Impressions

Not a happy trouper: Glen Heroy felt "invisible" and ignored by management

Perhaps that I should actually see the entire show was not meant to be. About six minutes ago, 9:52 PST, the first hour of tonight's repeat went dead. So did all the other channels, owing to Comcast having a problem. Last week, KQED was to blame.

I'm still not sure what to write. My late good friend Mike used to talk about, I think, the three emotions, any of which could keep the customer hooked on a movie or play: make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, or scare them to death. He might have added, if you can't deliver on any of those fundamentals, simply try to charm and delight 'em. On rare occasions, that's about the best Circus could do.

Here are some random thoughts on high and low lights:

* I loved the ever-so-brief coverage of Paul Binder and Gulliame Dufresnoy at Monte Carlo scouting for acts. The brief footage we saw of Monte Carlo action in the ring was terrifically tantalizing.

* Glen Heroy, such a sad lonely man, unable to feel comfortable in his trailer on a lot that at any time could turn noisy from kids at play or crying, adults socializing. A clown feeling "invisible," and ignored by management, as we were witnesses to. He ended up in the hospital with an injured leg and was on sick-leave for around a month.

* The predictably unhappy juggling LaSalle brothers, who wanted to resign but were talked out of it, and who dared to drop a part of their act from the performance (once out of NY), apparently without seeking approval from the director. By now, I've had enough of these feuding ungratefuls. The one on his way to medical school, and the other, seething over his brother's desertion, they ended up in two separate trailers. In a curiously apt way, they epitomize the failure of the U.S. to produce many enduring big top stars.

Old-guard pro Luciano Anastasini brought the true joy of circus comedy and magic to this overly troubled big top

* Compared to which (the above), a wonderful professional contrast in Luciano Anastasini, his wife, a former flying Espana (a very high class act on the old and better Circus Vargas), and their hard-working kids. A circus family from generations likely to stay in the biz for a long time. What a marvel that, following a terrible fall from the wheel of death that grounded Luciano for a couple of years, once back on his feet, he managed in a pair of fast-moving months to round up some stray dogs, craft a wonderfully amusing number of coordinated mayhem, and be back in the ring. His son, sensing it still needed more, suggested coming on in a little cho cho train. We got to see natural-born pros in action. Watching the act tonight, I felt a rare delight -- no, make that joy -- an emotion I wish I'd gotten more of here. Total professionals, from whose natural gifts the true magic of circus is renewed.

* A circus performer at Monte Carolo, on the subject of landing a contract with the most prestigious U.S. company: "It used to be Ringling; now it's Big Apple Circus." I'm not sure I would go that far, but still Ringling-Barnum has lost much of the luster it once enjoyed abroad. In fact, the Ringling named once commanded arguably the greatest reputation around the world.

* Paul and Guillaume at Monte Carlo conferring over act choices for possible contract offers, the two casually acknowledging how the balance of power between them has changed, now that Guilllaume has the final say.

* Guest clown for the season Mark Gindrick taking over the audience-participation band-leading gag (a hit and miss yawner) for the recuperating Heroy. I wonder how impressed or unimpressed TV audiences were left by the mixed results?

* A lingering sense of nothing much at all happening too much of the time. The producers did find a certain moody lyricism in those down moments in the backyard between shows. I'm not sure exactly what they were after. Maybe neither were they. If it's true that even reality shows are scripted, this one could have used better scripting.

* A stormy night in Atlanta, perfect cue for the vocal "Rainy Night in Georgia." One of the old-guard circus performers talked about cherry pie, about the natural readiness to help the show when the tent was in peril, and about how those "outsiders," including some gymnasts, fled for their trailers.

That great circus "family" frequently alluded to, in the end, still alluded me.

Vivacious ringmistress Carrie Harvey, one of several performers and staffers who declined to sign release forms allowing the PBS producers to film or interview them, might have added so much sparkle to the proceedings.

The long six-hour slog might make a fine show if the total running time was sliced in half. Fifty minutes later, my television is still not working. I know one thing. The LaSalles are headed for divorce. Glen Heroy may go back on his meds (he swore them off for a while after cheered by warm Atlanta audeinces), and the new show now up and showing in NY, Defresnoy's first, is not exactly the talk of the town.

I doubt that this particular PBS Circus will boost ticket sales much.

Yes, Peggy, I guess that's all there was, my friend.

[for my take on the ramifications of Paul Binder's retirement, type "momentous big top transfer" in the blogger search box above]


Anonymous said...

Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Alan Cabal said...

The overall impression I got from the PBS show was one of a once-great enterprise in serious decline. The acts looked lackluster and forced, with the exception of the flyers brought in to replace the act that got canned. The costumes were drab, and the bandstand was simply awful, whoever designed it should just go away. There was no magic there, none whatsoever.