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Absinthe 2007

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Absinthe 2007
Voki Kalfayan and Anais Thomassian
Photo by Joan Marcus.

One seldom thinks of a circus as an intimate affair. Yet in the stuffy confines of the Spiegeltent, located on Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport, the entropy-defying acrobatics displayed by the performers of Absinthe 2007 are so close you could literally reach out and touch them. There's nowhere for any of these delightfully demented denizens of what remains of the side-show circuit to hide themselves - that's the good news. The bad news is, there's also no way you can hide from them.

Yes, to attend this show is to be part of the show. If you're not up to being mocked by the galavanting gazillionaire ringmaster, getting whisked into the middle of a head-scratching demonstration of roller-skating prowess, or finding yourself hit on or given the fourth degree by a slinky countertenor Garlanding his way through "The Man That Got Away," this is not the show for you. If, on the other hand, you've got a hankering for ribald, underworldly delights the likes of which you'll never see anywhere else - well, there the matter is somewhat less clear.

Despite a solid 90 minutes (with an intermission) of raucous cavorting on, about, and most frequently above the stage, this version of Absinthe is strangely earthbound. I missed the original New York incarnation of this Spiegeltent last year, but it was impossible to avoid the whispers and raves it elicited, focusing on everything from women capable of making wide varieties of objects disappear in unexpected places, to feats of sublime contortion and athletic prowess. Everyone - male, female, straight, gay, from any background - seemed captivated by the wonders on display.

Absinthe 2007
Nate Cooper
Photo by Joan Marcus.

But while the 2007 version is engaging, it never reaches the miraculous heights so often ascribed to last year's. As directed by Wayne Harrison, the show pops most easily to ragged life when the ringmaster (Voki Kalfayan) and his bedraggled assistant Penny (Anais Thomassian) grab the reins, whether to bicker about the production, stage a pseudo-pornographic puppet show, or reinvent William Tell with laughably "tragic" results. The rest of the time, the show engages without ever becoming miraculous.

Instead, you're left with fleeting images, for example, of Marieve Hemond and Annie-Kim Dery performing individually (respectively, with ropes and a swing) and then together as Duo Scarlette, scenes that impress in the moment but hardly distinguish themselves afterwards. The diluted thrill of a teddy bear's sideline participation in Olaf Triebel's balancing act wears off almost as soon as it's introduced. Paul Capsis (that frisky countertenor) doesn't sing or do much you haven't heard or seen elsewhere, especially given New York's diverse cabaret climate. (His Joplin tribute could have been straight out of the Off-Broadway production of Love, Janis a few years back.)

Even the more exciting of the novelties don't seem particularly novel. The Skating Willers are adept at filling the tiny Spiegeltent stage with their synchronized (and sometimes schizophrenic) skating, but don't evince much in the way of personality beyond their predilection for Elvis tunes as accompaniment. Julie Atlas Muz knows her way around a giant plastic bubble and can manage the wry comic turn of a severed hand feeling her up, but defines herself primarily by how few clothes she wears at key points.

Absinthe is, perhaps predictably, best when it's serving up confections you can't - or wouldn't want to - find anywhere else. The most notable of these is Nate Cooper, a clumsy juggler capable of tap-dancing on roller skates and not impaling himself on the machetes he's wielding. Oh yes, while in drag. You don't see that everyday. That's not easily said about most of the rest of Absinthe 2007.


Absinthe 2007
Through September 30
South Street Seaport, under the Brooklyn Bridge
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral