Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Rain Returns to the Bay Area
Cirque Eloize is currently presenting Rain as part of the Best of Broadway series running at the Curran Theatre through October 16. This replaces Conor McPherson's Shining City. The elevated circus event from Quebec has outstanding acrobats, a contortionist, trapeze artists, juggling acrobats and five lovely athletic women on aerial rings. It is a simpler version of the overly extravagant Cirque du Soleil that appears regularly in the Bay Area.
The first act of Rain is loosely based on a rehearsal for the more complete second act where the artists really shine. You see the good looking men and women dressed in old fashioned swimsuits or plain streetwear wandering about swapping stories or giving caring or affectionate looks to certain members of the eleven person group. They are rehearsing for a brand new show. A tall good looking French juggler (Stephane Gentilini) comes out onto the stage to welcome the audience in his fractured English, telling us that we are going to see a circus. Just a few minutes later a young lady says in perfect English "Excuse me; I don't understand the direction of this show. I don't understand this new circus." This is certainly understandable because it's hard to tell what direction the production is taking.
There is a certain Gallic humor about the first act, which has monologue, physical comedy, mime and modern dance. The men and woman play against each other in overlapping segments of tumbling, contortion, juggling and trapeze. It is very informal and it takes a while to get used to seeing this group moving around. There is even a pianist playing honky tonk music that gets the group into a little Martha Graham type dancing, and canned music reminiscent of old fashioned French music before World War II. The whole setting looks like something out of an old time photograph album.
There are memorable moments in the first act, including an amazing display of a flexible rolling hoop by Krin Maren Haglund and Jonas Woolverton. The group tumbling act is a real show stopper with one of the tumblers on a flexible seesaw being "jet propelled" into the wings of the theatre. The juggling of bottles by most of the members of the cast is an exciting and artistic event. They use papers flowing down onto the stage to symbolize rain as the end of the first act nears.
The second act is a more conventional presentation with some of the best acrobatic feats you are likely to see. Each of these could easily be in a Cirque du Soleil show. Jacek Wyskup and Bartlomiej Pankau share a genuinely breathtaking balancing act, demonstrating superb grace and control as they work their bodies into strange shapes. Nadine Louis, a contortionist extraordinaire, performs an astonishing feat by being put into a medium size leather suitcase. It is both funny and shocking to watch as her loose-jointed body is pushed into this small case. Stephane Gentilini's juggling act is very romantic and not the type of juggling one sees in a regular circus. Thoughout this production several members of the cast carry balloons that look like rain clouds overhead as an impending rain storm.
The audience begins to wonder if a real rain storm is in the offing. As the second acts nears its end, there is a little splashing as a young woman on a suspended ring touches the ground. Suddenly, the entire Curran stage is immersed in a few inches of water just like the second act of the New York revival of Nine several years ago. More of the liquid falls from above and rather than Singing in the Rain, we get "dancing and frolicking in the rain." It's a real downpour. The movement of the eleven person group and the lighting effects are astounding The ending is truly unforgettable.
Cirque Eloize Rain plays through October 16 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Curran Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com
The SHN and Walden Media present Holes at part of the new Family Stage series opening at the Orpheum Theatre September 30 through October 9th.