Circus Vargas -- Bonjour Paris
Seen at Corte Madera, CA, August 12, 1 pm
Tickets: $19 - $75
Note: Website photos of the acts do not give names or bios.
What a difference a few critical seasons can make. The Circus Vargas you first spot this year, with a state of the art tent, can hold its own in design with the best of them. From a distance it’s a wow. Up close, you might be charmed by the sight of comfy couch chairs on the midway. The prelude air sparkles.
But all things in life do not always unfold to favor first impressions, right? This will be a doubly challenging review to write. So those who prefer their reviews sunny side up are encouraged to go sunny side down and out of here, while you have the chance. I do not bow to sacred cows.
I have never, in trying to form a notice, been so compelled to weigh talent against “production values” (announcing, music, set, costumes and props, direction and pacing, etc) First, to talent. On balance overall, I’d place it in a respectable B- range. Good enough for an average audience, certainly for crowds newer to the circus, and especially the young too young to have much to compare it with. .
For my eyes, the most gripping moment came on the rolla-bolla, our maniac for the afternoon stacking seven blocks on a roller and then proceeding to place himself at the top. The crowd went wild. We agree, crowd. The performer’s hyper jittery nerves, real or not, intensified audience fears.
I also liked the breezy, ingratiating fellow who works with an upright ladder, and balances large objects. Maybe on the basic side, but refreshing in its delivery. It’s an act I would welcome seeing again.
Circus Vargas, which has long excluded animals, now seems to be moving out of the aerial sphere as well. There is virtually little of memorable consequence in the air (only two strap acts, one in each half, well rendered), and practically no clowns. Yes, there are two guys who make funny faces and funny sounds.
Safety first in the modern tent
On the ground, there’s an ambitious teeterboard troupe, a bit of a work in progress.Biggest item is a woman in harness who is catapulted to form only a three-high. Usually, it’s a four stack that gets wired. But now, the lifelines, it seems, are becoming more and more an accepted element in the “new circus.” In fact, our protected diva advances the acceptance of them by being lowered to the ground twice with the aid of her safety wire, thus giving it the respect of a co-participant. She did execute a nifty feat, landing between two under-standers in a splits position.
What else? A young juggler offered a wide variety of manipulations, if only so many of them had not turned messy.
There is plenty of dancing, purpose being, I took it, to flesh out a flimsy theme about the show going to Paris. An accordion player serenades us, and the cast whoops it up line kicking in a winning can-can.
Okay, ready or not, here I go. Production values: They should enhance and elevate the action. Here they nearly smother it. This show looked and sounded very different from those I have seen several seasons before, and so I wondered if there had been a regime change at the top. Turns out, no, Katya Arata Quiroga and Nelson Quiroga,still own it. How strange that they, in their heyday top-flight trapeze artists, should now give us a largely empty shell above.
But like it or not, there is a regime change of sorts, an overbearing regime named Jonathan Lee Iverson. You will know him as a Ringling ringmaster. Here he also serves as performance director. At the start of his career on the Ringling show, Iverson cut an appealing figure, and I saw great promise and gave him high marks. But then he was restrained. Repeat: Restrained. Over the years, he has only grown more annoying, especially inside a small tent compared the huge arenas he played. During set up for the motorcycle cage, I wondered whether a long buzzing noise I heard was part of the operation — or Iverson himself going for a new record in vowel extension.
This advanced version of Iverson conveys a belligerent undertone of egocentric control. Indeed, he has a way of sucking the oxygen out of the tent with his proloooooooooooooooooooonged introductions, which he can't seem to get enough of. To be fair, the man’s verbal blasts are not without precedent, however questionable. I can think of at least another blowhard — the abundantly large one who bellowed away for Carson & Barnes, as if believing that the louder and longer he screamed, the greater would be his impact. Iverson did excel surprisingly and magnificently in going operatic in a baritone outburst — a second career in the making? Or mere lip syncing?
Enough. As for the vaguely dreary recorded music, how best to describe it? In a word, MO-NOT-O- NOUS Together, ringmaster and score form an oppressive barrier between artist and audience.
But ... the crowds the day I attended – I’d guess they filled about half the seats — were wildly alive, and lapped up most of everything. Circus Vargas has had 15 shows to do in the small upscale town of Corte Madera, in rich Marin County. They must be doing something right -- although, and I could be wrong, there seemed to be noticeably fewer people in the seats after intermission.
I know I won’t be returning until there is yet another regime change.
END RINGERS Trooping in Turmoil? Website does not name the photos. A total of 3 ringmasters appear in two images, one seen above Did I miss him? I only saw Iverson in the show. There's a foot juggling act I would love to have seen -- woman works large lotus leaf objects. She did not appear. What goes over there? .... Music that Sounds Like Music: There is music out there that can have strong multi-generational appeal, and the '80s stand out. I bring this up because, while on the way, my Lyft driver, a young guy from Brazil who is training to be an airline pilot like his father and uncle, had some ‘80s sounds coming from out of his system. We had fun talking up the era. Beware the Vargas Discount Coupon.I came across a large Vargas ad in the East Bay Times, which read: Save 15% on your tickets! Use code 15AD23" I tried using it at the ticket window, only to be curtly rebuffed: “We don’t do those here.” Oh, really? How unlike the previous regime ... They are next headed to Petaluma up the road. I wanted to post more photos, but the website disallows saving copies.