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Off Broadway Reviews

La Vie

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Samuel Tetreault and Emilie Bonnavand
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Summertime is vacation time, but if you've been wary of boarding a plane because of all those news reports of delays and cancellations, you might not get the trip you're dying for. And really, is it any better to step foot in some gorgeous paradise, only to have the reaction that you never want to go back?

Believe it or not, these two conditions can be reconciled, and you don't even have to leave New York City. It does, however, require a trip to the Spiegeltent at Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport: There, you can grab a high-flying, erotic reverie called La Vie that generates almost too much heat for comfort during these humid July weeks.

There's a catch, though. Isn't there always? The characters in the show, played by eight gifted performers from the Montreal "circus arts theater company" The 7 Fingers, really can't return. You see, they're dancing, flying, tumbling, and playing their way right through their eternal existence in Purgatory. That gives them plenty of time to reconsider, rethink, and reenact their devotions to the sins (all Seven Deadly of them) that got them there in the first place.

Overseeing it all is the ghostly host, The Prince of Liars, played by Sebastien Soldevila as cross between Telly Savalas and the Emcee in Cabaret. He is, as you might presume, more than a little interested in death, and maintains files on each of the many millions under his control. Yet he's also not without a heart, so he's more than willing to give everyone one last fling at happiness - or at least what they knew of life before they moved on from it. This even includes, in the evening's spectacular finale, himself.

Sebastien Soldevila (bottom) and Patrick Léonard (top)
Photo by Joan Marcus.

First things first. There's a young man (Samuel Tetrault) who lost the use of his legs, but is capable of performing astounding acts of balance on merely his arms. The token crazy one (Isabelle Chassé) strains against a straitjacket and plans a daring escape with stolen bedsheets, but meets an unfortunate end when gravity intervened. The body of a beautiful young woman (Faon Shane) might be entrapped in chains, but her spirit roams free.

How about the newcomer? Well, that one (Patrick Léonard) is interesting, indeed. When he first drops in (literally), he's both lost and confused, still capable of deluding himself that he's really still alive. But even after he hits the "acceptance" stage, he's desperate enough to hang on that he challenge the Hosts at every opportunity. The growing relationship between the two, youthful optimism striving against galactic inevitability, forms the show's strongest narrative spine; their face-offs, including games with pipes, canes, wheel spinnings, and even ukuleles, are among the evening's most exciting events.

Finding lowlights, however, is tough: A certain sameness does creep into the aerial acts, which don't always connect to La Vie's overriding theme of joy in the face of sorrow in especially clear-cut ways. But they're all such impressive feats of death-defiance that their simple enjoyment factor links them together through the shared humanity of their performers; even when the point isn't made, you still get it.

But, oh, when they tackle those sins head on. Especially lust, which makes for an out-of-control emotional free-for-all in the final scenes, when all the afterlife's various partners unite, divide, and recombine into a sweating series of sizzling configurations that eventually culminate in the Host's steamy tryst with an alluring brunette (Emilie Bonnavand); when his demonic intensity of stare and her sultry come-hither eyes and arms collide, they could set even Hell on fire.

Not that any of these people would ever see that particular blaze, of course; they're caught just outside it, in the place described in the show as "the flight to Hell that never quite gets there." Truthfully, it never has a chance. Watching these lost souls embody the fiery glories of death, redemption, and sex is an experience considerably closer to Heaven.

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

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