nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
April 30, 2011
In today’s market where every dollar counts, it is understandable that most producers are forced to consider “the bigger the better” attitude. But I like intimate theater, and am of a mind that many, many productions would be more enjoyable and have more meaning for the audience “up close” and personal. Being one of very few of my acquaintance that has not partaken of the estimable skills of the popular large companies who present circus-like extravaganzas, I was drawn to see the tiny Suspended Cirque Company at the charmingly cozy Connolly Theater in the East Village. I was not disappointed.
Suspended Cirque touts itself as New York City’s first Aerial Acrobatics Theater troupe, presenting a new genre of performance that integrates breathtaking aerial acrobatics, theater, choreography, music, dance, and circus. Their current show is Subterranea, an intriguing “Urban Fairytale” carried out with a cast of seven dynamic performers who take us through an adventure that evokes awe and delight.
Joshua Dean as the creature Pan takes the lead by greeting and interacting with the audience before the stage action even begins, while the speakers emit the sound of dripping water. This sets up an expectation of both strangeness and mirth that permeates the entire show. When a Man seemingly falls through the ceiling or street to the stage below, he is met by a dark, gothic surrounding filled with strange, active beings that hang, twist, crawl, and twirl around him, sucking him and the audience into their world. We follow The Man through eighteen stages of his adventure (with one intermission) as he comes to terms with this dimension and ultimately a kind of redemption for his own life.
Ben Franklin as The Man gives a wonderfully nuanced performance full of pathos. As Pan, Dean has the thrilling charisma, whimsy, and menace that remind me of the MC character in the musical Cabaret. Michelle Dortignac as Echo, Angela Jones as Prima, and Kristin Olness as Hecate create an electric mesmerizing coven of sister creatures who also balance humor and rage, for an engrossing mix. These five core performers of the group display amazing acrobatics both on the ground and in the air, using the various apparatus throughout the wonderful gothic set. Audience members of all ages gasped in delight at regular intervals as these talented athletes displayed their abilities while telling the tale. Their skills are truly amazing and best viewed close up! Guest performers include the lovely Megan Loomis as Pandora/The Phoenix, who sings hauntingly beautifully and plays the violin with a fiery and soothing assurance, and the pert lively Kimothy Cruse, who charms us with her ribbon dancing as The Spirit of Phoenix.
Andrew Oswald directs all this with a sure hand, creating an intriguing balance of calm and fierce that propels the action forward while allowing the audience moments of contemplation. The innovative and striking lighting design by Andrew J. White is outstanding, and goes a long way in making this piece work so well. Also outstanding is the sound design by Uri Attia, with some wonderful original music by Attia, Jeff Halpern, Gary Pozner, and Firenz. Costume design by Dean, Chastity Neutze, and Eric Gorsuch, and makeup design by Mindy Bisesti are all delightful, and the striking and eerie gothic set design is by Dean and Oswald. Truly a group effort, and well worth it. Don’t miss it!