nytheatre.com review by Chris Harcum
November 15, 2008
I loved this show. Cirque Mechanics' Birdhouse Factory brings the best of silent film, gymnastics, clowning, design, and "cirque" together in this exhilarating production. Veterans of Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family and Moscow circuses join forces to bring an event that is packed with entertainment, low on pretension, and bursting with unbelievable feats. Compounding the amazement factor is the fact that they squeezed this stadium-sized show into the period-appropriate New Victory Theater.
Birdhouse Factory goes toe-to-toe with any Cirque du Soleil show in terms of performance with a dozen or so gymnastic acts and a few clown and juggling routines that are constantly surprising and enchanting. But where Cirque du Soleil treads in the ether with dreamlike, nonsensical fantasy, Birdhouse Factory brings the dreamscape into a more grounded industrial reality.
Entering the theater, we see the exterior of a 1930s widget factory in front of the lowered curtain. As the audience finds their way to their seats (some with strapped cushions for the under-six set), clown Jesse Dryden brings the rumpus in overalls and Harold Lloyd glasses. Armed only with a retractable measuring tape and youthful spirit, he keeps parents and kids alike entertained by running on top of armrests and touching unsuspecting patrons on the head with the measuring tape from the mezzanine.
The show opens in a somber tone. Workers arrive at the factory before sunlight to put in another long day. Women on one side, men on the other. Costumed in co-director and choreographer Aloysia Gavre's outfits, you would think the most gymnastic thing they could ever do is open their lunch pails with their repetitive-motion-damaged hands. Patrick McGuire's Boss character is set apart in a bowler and nice black suit. He opens the gate into a special world. Director Chris Lashua and his design and fabrication team, Chris Taylor, Tony Roan and Michael Redinger, have created an environment inspired by Diego Rivera, Rube Goldberg, and Charlie Chaplin. Metropolis in color, only much more fun.
The talented cast is equally astounding in all the routines that spring out of the operations at the factory. Sagiv Ben Binyamim and Elisabeth Carpenter gracefully execute their Ropelamp routine. Khongorzul Tsevenoidov's contortions on the bicycle-powered trolley platform push the frontiers of physical possibility. Thayr Harris's RolaBola tricks keep you on the edge of your seat. Patrick Maguire's juggling of a hat, ball, and open umbrella is topped only by his juggling of six balls at once. Jesse Dryden's clown holds the story together and his solo spots are a master class in simplicity and delight.
Some of the performers turn up in several acts. Sagiv Ben Binyamim and Aloysia Gavre's Tango is filled with gymnastic turns. Chris Lashua looks like the happiest man alive during his "look Ma, no hands" German Wheel routine. He joins Wes Hatfield and Michael Redinger extreme sport inspired Wall Trampoline act that is nothing short of mind-boggling.
The relevance of this show to the present day comes into focus when the widget factory closes and the clown reopens it as the eponymous Birdhouse Factory. This is the first time I felt a circus was making a comment about this world with another world. It made me think about how it is playing on 42nd Street for a fraction of a Broadway ticket price—and if it were truly "on Broadway" it might just close the other widget factories down.