Keane freely acknowledges that he had been thinking of Circus for more than a dozen years before it first opened two years ago in Ireland. He draws from Federico Fellini's 1954 film, La Strada, which centers about a peasant girl who is sold into the circus. The current play, however, initially introduces two acrobats, Harle (Hillas Smith) and Gubu (Colm O'Grady); then, a young woman, Angelina (Flora Herberich) becomes a vital presence.
This is not a shiny, state-of-the-art circus. The theater has been transformed so that patrons sit on three sides of a small circus ring. One feels transported to a place within a village where Harle, Gubu and another character Mook (Trevor Knight who is the versatile and talented composer/sound designer for the production) are trying to survive. As the audience anticipates the beginning of this play, which is performed without any words whatsoever, Harle tosses soft balls into the audience. Whoever wishes may pitch one toward Gubu, standing upright with a large wooden barrel encasing him. Gubu swats the balls back into the crowd. Soon, this yields to: juggling, knife throwing, and gymnastics.
Angelina, strong and appealing, is brought aboard by Harle and Gubu to enrich the circus. Circus Rigger Daryll John lowers a trapeze amid flowing colorful ribbons and streamers designed by Sabine Dargent. Performing together, Gubu and Angelina, their upper body muscularity evident, intertwine as they carefully yet ardently infuse Circus with infectious passion and sensuousness. These are moments of tension as, truly, there is no full guarantee that these two will not fall. The dramatic tension is palpable. The fervor and heat are obvious and, honestly, this is irresistibly romantic. Ultimately, the plot evolves with further complication.
Circus focuses, through physical dexterity and varied music, upon human emotion. Multi-faceted, it is a charming, delightful show which, at the outset, features recognizable, stock characters. Gubu, with his curly dark hair, is powerful and friendly. Harle, in contrast, is severe and grim. Angelina's red costume, designed by Suzanne Keogh, is clown-like. Observing, one feels as if a very small time circus act has just come to town since the trappings are anything but majestic. The implication is that it's been quite a struggle to wardrobe the performers, keep in motion, and continue.
Colm O'Grady, playing Gubu, was a stunt man and street performer who later studied acting. Flora Herberich, the radiant Angelina, left Germany to run away and join the circus in Ireland. She then studied acrobatics as well as theater. Hillas Smith, embodying the unsympathetic Harle, is, in real life, an itinerate circus performer.
Raymond Keane utilizes action to tell a non-verbal, fully intriguing story. Dialogue would actually limit the effectiveness of this presentation. The writer/director commendably fulfills his stated mission by creating a show that people of almost any age will appreciate.
Circus, presented by Barabbas Theater Company, continues as part of New Haven's International Festival of the Arts, through June 20th. The show is presented at Yale's University Theatre. For specifics on performances and ticket information, call the box office at (203) 562-5666 or visit www.artidea.org.
- Fred Sokol