Saturday, November 13, 2010

PAUL REUBENS: Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway (Entertainment Weekly)

The first sight of the star of The Pee-wee Herman Show is a trip. Eternally natty in his little red bow tie, young master Herman steps out from behind a curtain to open his beguiling time-warp Broadway romp. The fan-filled audience cheers wildly — they love him enough to marry him! For a moment the clock spins backward: Paul Reubens — who first pranced in character three decades ago — may be a decidedly adult 58-year-old man, but the exuberant, hyperactive boy in the spotlight is an age-resistant, rouged child of 1980-something.

The reunion of Pee-wee and his pals from the great TV show Pee-wee's Playhouse is staged with modern brio by director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), who produces a dazzling acid ride of color, light, goofy anarchy, punchy video clips, and juicy sound effects. (Here's our review of last winter's L.A. production.) For fans, there's plenty that's familiar. Hi, Chairry and Magic Screen, the Paleolithically pre-iPad reference tool! Hi, Miss Yvonne, the most beautiful woman in the world (played as ever by Lynne Marie Stewart)!

In a liberating wink, Reubens doesn't stint on giddy new jokes at the expense of e-mail, ShamWow! pads, and the gossip-page knowledge of his own notorious history. Mailman Mike (John Moody from the original stage show) delivers a letter from a prison friend, and Pee-wee even shows off the abstinence ring he proudly wears (take that, Jonas Brothers!). Thus do the centuries past and present collide while the host cooks deep-fried onion rings for his buddies and wishes his deepest wish: to be able to fly. What he's really cooking up, though, is a knowing Proustian reflection on time passing and innocence lost — both Reubens' and our own. And throughout, the secret word is fun. A–

THE FRATELLINIS: With Darius Milhaud

Darius Milhaud et les Fratellini à l'époque de la création du Bœuf sur le toit © Archives Darius Milhaud


Thursday, November 11, 2010

MARK ANTHONY: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; Blue Unit (1974)

Photo courtesy of the International Clown Hall of Fame

SQUIRM BURPEE CIRCUS: From Off-Broadway World

Talk about sacrificing for your art! Two performers in the steampunk circus troupe, Handsome Little Devils -- who are engaged to be married -- went so far as to postpone their wedding so their show, Squirm Burpee Circus: A Vaudevillian Melodrama, could run at The New Victory Theater from November 12 through 28.

"It was a big decision. But for the chance to perform at a New York City theater like The New Victory... it was just too fantastic. We couldn't pass it up," said Mike Huling, one half of the engaged couple and the company's artistic director.

Squirm Burpee Circus is a family-friendly "vaudevillian melodrama" that features fast-paced comedy, first-class acrobatics and juggling, dance, zany contraptions and a melodrama plot: there's a good guy, a bad guy, and a damsel in distress. Mike the Handsome (Mike Huling), Dashing Dave (Dave Clay) and Lovely Little Lolo (Cole Schneider, Mr. Huling's fiancé) play a beloved circus trio that must outwit the dastardly Baron Vegan Von Hamburger (Jason Knauf) - a mustachioed villain decidedly dedicated to their demise.

Squirm Burpee Circus is directed by Armitage Shanks. Choreography is by Dan Newsome and Matthew Schneider, costume design is by Sarah Campbell, lighting design is by Joey Wartnerchaney, and set design is by Michael and Dan Huling.

So when are Cole and Mike finally getting hitched? "July 16, 2011. We've been dating for six years, so pushing it back a bit is okay."

For tickets please click here.

JAMES THIEREE: Raoul at BAM Harvey (Time Out NY)

HUNGRY FOR FRAME Thierree puts himself in the art.
Photograph: Richard Haughton

Acrobat, clown and magician James Thiérrée walks on stilts, does backflips, plays the violin, crawls on all fours, spins in pirouettes and dangles from precarious structures. He can do just about anything onstage…except, it seems, speak, as words are superfluous in his thoroughly visual spectacles. So one cool, sunny morning, when Thiérrée arrived at a café on rue du Faubourg St. Denis in his hometown of Paris, we were happy to find that the 36-year-old artist relishes talking about his very silent and poetic work.

Elegantly handsome, with curly gray hair, pale blue eyes and a distinct resemblance to his grandfather Charlie Chaplin, Thiérrée pauses between sips of tea to discuss Raoul, opening this Friday at the BAM Harvey Theater. Raoul, he explains, is a solitary man, who fears that another creature has invaded his body and soul. As the protagonist wrestles with his identity, he questions whether he is fish or fossil, interrupted occasionally by otherworldly species. “Raoul is his own worst enemy and his own best friend,” Thiérrée explains, “trying to find his relationship to time and space.”

Anyone unfamiliar with Thiérrée’s work might suspect the show of being terribly serious, but its creator treats even the most profound emotions and ideas with sly humor. Swiss-born, Thiérrée grew up learning several languages—including that of the circus. His father, classical French actor Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée, and his mother, Victoria Chaplin, a dancer and daughter of Chaplin (and granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill), founded two circuses popular in the 1970s and ’80s. The first was Cirque Imaginaire, which dispensed with traditional sawdust and trained animals, followed by Le Cirque Invisible. (Charlie Chaplin died when Thiérrée was three, so any influence must be chalked up to genetics.)

Thiérrée began performing with his family at age four, and by his twenties he’d branched out with acclaimed performances in venues from Sadler’s Wells in London to the Sydney Festival in Australia. He describes his performances as “strange mixtures, conversations with theater, that don’t include text. I work with the unconscious a lot. Adding words would be an ego trip.” Raoul marks Thiérrée’s third offering in BAM’s New Wave Festival, after Au Revoir Parapluie (2007) and Bright Abyss (2005). “James fills the stage with energy and vitality,” notes Joseph Melillo, executive producer of the Brooklyn institution.“He just disarms audiences with his charm and physicality, which he pushes to the nth degree. His work is a completely magical, visual feast.”

In the past, Thiérrée created productions with his troupe La Compagnie du Hanneton. But two years ago, he felt the urge to craft a solo piece. And yet, in Raoul, he’s not exactly solitary, sharing the space with a huge, intricate and collapsible set made from billowing sheets and fantastic fabric creatures (built by his mother). These include a giant elephant made of cotton, a jellyfish of antique silk and a wading bird of frayed string—all manipulated by unseen company members. “These surreal beings,” the performer says, “give me something to interact with. It’s important to convey Raoul’s human qualities through visual effects.”

However, spectacle isn’t the only theatrical quality that Thiérrée values. After his previous engagements, he knows the BAM Harvey well and loves its size and striking, weathered beauty. “But I have to make sure I don’t disappear in it,” he cautions. “People have to see my face, to have something to connect with. I use my body as a verb. I gave this show more structure than usual because there’s no one with me. My character takes the audience on a journey. You see how Raoul deals with fear and how he deals with joy. I hope people will feel differently after seeing it. I guess you might say the story is really about James. I’m opening a new door.”

As if on cue, Thiérrée’s lovely girlfriend enters the café, wheeling a baby carriage. “This is my son,” the artist says, leaning over a cherubic bundle and smiling tenderly. “Look how alert he is at only two months. I want to cut down on touring because of him, maybe establish a theater here, so I can watch him grow. It will be interesting to see how his birth changes the way I perform Raoul. I am not the same man I was now that I’m a father.”



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

PIERRE ETAIX: On Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan... etc.

Pierre Etaix, Buster Keaton, Jackie Chan et les autres
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JAMES THIEREE: Raoul at BAM Harvey (New York Times)

An Elephant, a Jellyfish and a Man With a Lot on, and in, His Mind

Published: November 7, 2010

Apparently you can go home again. You just have to be prepared to confront another version of yourself when you get there, a version who may not be at all sympathetic to the intrusion.

In “Raoul,” which is having its first American performances as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, the French artist James Thiérrée ruminates on themes of place, identity and the self. Given his varied skill set (clowning, acrobatics, illusion, etc.), he and his troupe, Compagnie de Hanneton, do so in a fantasy world of shape-shifting spectacle, slapstick humor and melancholy whimsy.

The work is essentially a solo, though Mr. Thiérrée does get several assists, including from his mother, Victoria Thiérrée, who designed the large fabric animals that occasionally float into the space to trouble the title character’s sense of the world and himself. (The magically plodding elephant was my favorite.)

Mr. Thiérrée, who has a full set of curls, deft physicality and a quick, often bemused smile, is an utter charmer onstage. His Raoul is forceful but lost, puttering resolutely in his rattling little cage of a house, with its richly decrepit carpets and armchair, like a shut-in Don Quixote.

But the charms of “Raoul” the show quickly wear thin, as Mr. Thiérrée tries on one theatrical ploy after another, never settling into any of them long enough to satisfy the existential questions on his mind. Press materials compare the work to Beckett, but this is a fantasy too; clowning is an art of failure, and “Raoul” never sets the stakes high enough to make the impact of its title character’s missteps, vulnerabilities and outlandish coping strategies deeply enough felt (though Thomas Delot’s sound design does its best to suggest yearning emotions).

Instead of registering as organic developments, Mr. Thiérrée’s actions stack up like manic little set pieces: now he plays the violin, now he whirls a top around his head, now he does a boneless slide down a giant ladder. He flies, does battle with an oversize jellyfish and nimbly scales the walls of his increasingly ravaged shelter. Everything comes undone, save Mr. Thiérrée’s shtick.

I saw this show last Friday night with my friend, Michael Karp. I believe Mr. Karp would agree that if the critic from the New York Times found Mr. Thiérrée’s "Raoul" somehow lacking, the fault is with the critic and not with the production.

DON'T BE A SUCKER! As Important Now As It Was Then (1947)

Don't Be a Sucker! is an anti-racist propaganda film produced by the US War Department in 1947.

An American who has been listening to a racist rabble-rouser is warned off by a naturalized Hungarian immigrant, who explains to him how racist demagogy allowed the Nazis to rise to power in Germany, and warns Americans not to fall for similar demagogy propagated by American racists.

The film was made to make the case for the desegregation of the United States armed forces. Due to fears that the film would be offensive to white Southerners, the film was not intended initially to be broadcast to the general public.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010


QUOTE: Mark Anthony

Quote courtesy of Brian Wright, photo courtesy of Wayne Sidley

"We clowns . . . are continually living our childhood over and over again. We get away with things that most people only dream about. We do all the things that normal people only dream about. We do all the things that normal life teaches us to avoid. . . . Like the seaman who likes the roll and feel of a ship, I like the feel of the circus. You marry the circus." - Mark Anthony