Clown for a New Day

Clown for a New Day
Dagwood might make it in today's emasculated circus

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spider-tacular Peril Revives Old Circus with a Terrifying New Twist: When Will Danger's Destination Be THE AUDIENCE?

Carpio, another injured Spider-Man actress, will be out of the show for 2-3 weeks. She had replaced Natali Mendoza, who suffered a more serious injury and left the production.

Time to brush off our contemptible Circus Maximus memories and give due, if perverse, respect to those bloody Roman "games" that drew spectators by the hundreds of thousands.

Their spirit of risk-taking seems to have resurfaced, of all places, in a "legit" Broadway house named the Foxwoods Theatre, credit the musical endlessly in previews that just keeps on hurting, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Only last week, but not until yesterday made belatedly known, yet another actress, Carpio, got tangled up in the show's precarious cobwebs and ended up in the hospital with minor injuries. Carpio, who had replaced Natali Mendoza, an earlier victim of a more serious fall, will be out of the show for two weeks. The unscripted landings continue apace.

Crowds of uncertain origin -- possibly sharing the same thrill-seeking mania that drew the multitudes to the Roman Coliseum where Christians got fed to the lions -- are flocking to the Foxwoods Theatre in New York, nightly nearly packing the playhouse to witness actors flying out over the audience destined for balcony landings and return flights.

Most of the time, the marionette thespians make it. Sometimes they don't, causing gasps, groans and grief-stricken faces from startled ticket holders, setting off alarms, throwing scenery aside to make room for medics with stretchers, driving headline-writers into fits of melodrama over the latest misfortune to befall a show with a reputation for its reckless technical reach.

Hard to imaging this critically panned "musical" thriving without all of the above. The long lines still forming at the ticket windows, despite the hissing notices, are there, forget about a leaden second act and some worn out rock and roll songs, to see the "circus" in Spider-Man. To even watch -- well, let's not go there.

Once upon a more dangerous season, many of these same customers flocked to our pre-Cirque circuses on the wings of similarly trepidations expectations. Most of them feared the worst, and rarely did the worst every happen. But the ever-present "worst" gave the big top a certain raw urgency that it has grown to doubt and downplay. Terminate or emasculate your "thrill acts," and somewhere, somehow, they will find a way back into another or newer form.

But live action theatre at the Foxwoods introduces a new, even more perilous element into an old-fashioned format: the very real possibility that YOU, not a performer but a patron, might also end up on a stretcher. That is, if you happen to be sitting in the wrong seat when the unthinkable occurs. At a circus, rarely if ever has this eerie option been present. Yes, of course, if a trapeze artist on the dismount bounces out of a net, theoretically he or she could land in the unwelcome lap of a customer. At the Fox woods, that possibility lurks at every performance. And this factor alone makes astonishing the continued indifference of New York city over the dangers inherent in this problem-plagued production. One might ask, is theatre such a big industry in Gotham, and Spider-Man, such a draw, that without the latter, all theatres would suffer?

And while Spider-Man continues to draw the multitudes, most of our circuses, having either learned to downplay the element of risk or immunize themselves totally against it by using safety lifelines (mechanics), are becoming, it might be prudently argued, less exciting, and thus less appealing an option to the average American amusement seeker.

Nouveau circus types dismiss "danger" as the mark of a barbaric art form. They are in essence reinventing the form to liberate it from itself. They have every right to succeed on their own terms -- if they can. But "static trapeze," a new device granting the "aerialist" artistic license to stress choreography over daredevilry, is unlikely to advance the circus as a wide-spread populist draw. It may, on the other hand, reinvent and re-energize ballet.

And in the meantime, thrill acts of all sort will continue to flourish, whatever the form.

My advice to all Spider-Man voyeurs: Unless you desire yourself to be fed to the flying lions, so to speak, in a modern form of accidental victim-hood, get thee to a balcony seat in the Gods far away from this ill-rigged ethereal extravaganza, either that wear a hard hat before reporting to your orchestra seat, be prepared to duck and cover without advance notice, and pray for a safe journey out of the modern-day version of old Rome, while it lasts, on that brave new Great White Way.

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