Cirque Mechanics’ BIRDHOUSE FACTORY

After Redmoon Theater’s visually delightful interpretation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame I saw recently at the New Vic, I was looking forward to their newest family-friendly offering, Birdhouse Factory by Cirque Mechanics, a motley crew of acrobats, stuntpeople and clowns whose biographies read like a Who’s Who of circuses.

The story is loose at best: a ragtag bunch of factory workers make the time pass by performing various circus acts that help transform the place from a gloomy dump run by a grumpy juggler to a birdhouse factory run by a delightful clown.  Of course, this show doesn’t have to have a story at all; it’s about circus acts. The acts range from the ordinary (juggling, contortion) to the less common (a great wall trampoline, Rola Bola). Lashua and his team have tried to give a new spin on the standbys by playing with presentation – a contortionist on a moving unicycle-powered platform, a silks act on ropes weighed down with industrial lamps – but many of the acts feel unfocused and long, dwindling in excitement before the act is finished.

The best acts of the evening have their own internal structure and become more challenging from beginning to end, so they overcome the show’s clunky narrative flow and pacing issues. Thayr Harris’ Rola Bola is a crisp, gleeful snapshot. And the German wheel act (performed at the show I attended by Lashua himself) started out daring and remained surprising throughout, so every second was interesting. But most acts don’t deliver work that sustains your initial enthusiasm throughout the act, let alone build it up for what’s coming next.

The score, composed by Julia Newmann and Cody Westheimer, further clouds the pace of each act and the entire story with inexplicably random and drastic changes in tone and tempo. Combined with the tepid between-act potpourri of dance, mime, and Chaplin-esque slapstick between a boss and underling, the overall impression is one of a flurry of hodgepodge bits in need of homes.

The real standout of the night is Jesse Dryden’s fantastic clowning. Dryden, creative director of the Circus Smirkus Big Top tour, mixes sharp classic clowning bits effortlessly with improvised audience riffing in a sweet, silly character you can’t resist cheering for. He delivers a fresh take on a universal act in every second of his performance. I wish the rest of Birdhouse did the same.

Cirque Mechanics’ Birdhouse Factory at the New Victory Theater

now – Dec 14

full schedule & tickets ($15-50) here or 646-223-3010

3 thoughts on “Cirque Mechanics’ BIRDHOUSE FACTORY”

  1. TrailFlyer says:

    Having seen this show a couple of times, I must say I think you missed a subtle point in the Birdhouse Factory show that ties the acts together. The bird getting in imparted some magic that changed everything from humdrum to an elevated consciousness.

    Thank you for noticing the rola bola act. Thayr Harris is indeed skilled; his acting also has a distinct charm.

    I enjoyed the music and thought it fit the show quite well.

  2. rkarpf says:

    Thanks for your comment. Great to hear other people’s perspective.

    I did see the bird, and I do understand that that was supposed to be part of the story of transformation in the show. But I don’t think that the circus acts as they were presented had enough to do with that transformation story. I think the piece would have been more successful if it focused on just presenting the company’s strengths (interesting circus acts with some twists in presentation), rather than adding additional narrative pieces that were not strong enough to stand on their own and didn’t have enough of a relationship to the acts.

    After all, it’s a circus show — it doesn’t necessarily HAVE to have a theatrical narrative. I know Cirque du Soleil et al tend to put out thematic pieces, but I would be curious to know how the Cirque Mechanics team decided on the structure of this and past shows.

  3. Henry Chowmix says:

    Um, the music was awesome! What are you on? I own the soundtrack and it’s really quite wonderful. Take another listen! 🙂

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