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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Aurélia's Oratorio Makes a Stop at the McCarter

Also see Bob's reviews of Side by Side by Sondheim and Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

Aurelia's Oratorio
Aurélia Thierrée in Aurélia's Oratorio
Aurélia's Oratorio has received much praise around the world since it was first staged in 2003. Critical praise has continued throughout its current American tour which has made stops at prestigious regional theatres throughout the country. It is the creation of its director Victoria Chaplin Thierrée, a daughter of Charlie Chaplin and is performed by her daughter Aurélia Thierrée. Victoria and her husband Jean-Baptiste Thierrée created a company performing a new style of circus in France in the 1970s featuring aerialists and acrobats which is considered a forerunner of the Cirque du Soleil. Aurélia Thierrée has performed with them all of her life.

Aurélia Thierrée is an intriguing actress and exceptional, unique circus performer. Her stage companion Jaime Martinez is a breathtaking pantomime-dancer whose dazzling talent recalls Bill Irwin and Fred Astaire.

Aurélia's Oratorio begins in a mildly entertaining fashion with the limbs and head of Thierrée emerging in impossible positions from a three-level bureau with four drawers. The bit concludes with her revealing an extra artificial limb to show us how we have been fooled by a magic trick. However, you might want to question whether she actually employed that extra limb in her performance. There are at least a half dozen knockout effects in the following hour. One has Thierrée's feet acrobatically twined in a curtain high above the stage with her upper parts angled down to the stage as she flies a kite mounted to the stage floor. A fan-created wind blowing her and her kite about makes for a very evocative effect. Another standout effect, accomplished behind and with the help of a shear white curtain, has Thierrée losing a shoe and foot, and then knitting them back on. A puppet theatre with a puppet audience which surprisingly comes to life is dramatically effective and visually striking. The final effect involving a toy electric train is a visual treat. Jaime Martinez performs some wonderful dances, the most delightful of which is one in which he transforms himself in to a dancing couple.

Three stage assistants contribute to the magic and effects throughout the presentation. The wordless show features a wide range of classical and popular music from various eras and parts of the world.

The dark but playfully humorous piece is a combination of music hall songs and dances, whimsical aerial and acrobatic routines, and visual magic employing contortionism. There is a feel of intelligent design and introspection about the entire proceedings, but the overall design of the quilt that the Thierrées have woven is not apparent to me. For the most part, the lighting is very muted (although during one routine involving a display of watches, a light reflecting off one watch was literally blinding). The often diminutive decor seen in semi-darkness feels tacky and inadequately sized for the McCarter Berlind Theatre stage which is the smaller of its two main stages. Despite running only a scant 65 minutes, Aurélia's Oratorio is too often enervating. It would be most appropriate for a concert booking here, but, despite the intelligence and talent that it displays, Aurélia's Oratorio is too lightweight and small to satisfactorily fill a valuable McCarter subscription slot.

Aurélia's Oratorio continues performances (Evenings: Sunday; Tuesday-Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees Saturday 3 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through October 17 at the McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theatre), 91 University Place, Princeton 08540. Box office: 609-258-2787; online: www.mccarter.org.

Aurélia's Oratorio created ad directed by Victoria Chaplin Thierrée
Cast: Aurélia Thierrée, Jaime Martinez


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- Bob Rendell



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