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