The Daring Young Folks on the Flying Trapeze

Amy Danielson

It seems natural that Theatre de la Jeune Lune, a company so devoted to physical theatrics, would incorporate aerialist performers in a production. The company’s founders were trained in the circus arts at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris which features training in clowning, mime and commedia dell’arte. Several members of the company also studied at the National Circus School. From this foundation, they have since produced works that are steeped in physicality, narrowing the distinction between what is labeled theater and now, what is considered circus.

This cocktail of theater and circus arts is enticing. Typically, companies that attempt to meld the two disciplines end up sacrificing quality in one of the two areas. Cirque du Soleil, for example, made an exaggerated attempt to be more than a circus with their overly theatrical production of “Alegria” last summer. Sometimes, a circus should not try to be more. Why tinker with something that is fine the way it is? The same could be asked of Theatre de la Jeune Lune: Why add aerialists to a production?

Although this would be a pertinent question for many companies, it would be a silly question to ask of Theatre de la Jeune Lune. Always searching for new ways to reach audiences and expand their aesthetic vision, the company is constantly at pains to assimilate new ideas into their already heady mix. To this end, Theatre de la Jeune Lune have enlisted aerialist Meg Elias-Emery to help them create a world of spectacle to accompany their new fairy tale production, “The Circus of Tales.”

Elias-Emery, her aptly named daughter Aerial Emery and three additional aerialists spin and swing above the stage. Their acts provide transition between stories as well as escalate the level of fantasy during the fairy tales. The “Spanish web” (an act involving an aerialist who hangs from a rope, often by just one limb, and is spun by another performer from the ground) especially excited the young children in the audience, many of whom became frightened at such a spectacle and took the opportunity to leap onto daddy’s comforting lap. In other breaks from the drama, the aerialists climb long silk drapes which hang from the ceiling. Twisting their bodies around the fabric, they flow with it as the beautiful silk swings across the stage. Metal hoops and swinging trapezes allow for more playful performances as the fairytales unfold on the stage below.

Director Robert Rosen looked for inspiration in a collection of Italian fairy tales, “Il Pentamerone” (“The Tale of Tales”). As in this collection of fairy tales, Rosen weaves together multiple fables encompassed by one overarching story. The visual magnificence created by the aerialist propels the already playful production into a world of fantasy.

Barbra Berlovitz becomes a delightfully gluttonous girl who enjoys eating, whining and playing with a golden ball. Equally amusing is Vincent Gracieux, who captures the essence of a naive boy named Anthony who has “head disease” (large chunks of dandruff fall to the ground every time he removes his hat). Garbed as a little boy, he is ridiculous and hilarious. His lopsided costume reveals his boyish charm: a shoe on one foot, a sock on the other and pant legs of unequal lengths. His voice is also quite droll. It is the same bellowing, French-accented baritone as usual. While Berlovitz alters her voice into a high-pitched screech as she shrieks, “Me, me, me!” Gracieux remains a grumbly old French man in a little boy costume, and it works. They start out on separate journeys but cross paths as they encounter cunning frogs who make deals with the spoiled children in return for a golden ball, or a princess in Anthony’s case.

Steven Epp plays a slimy, google-eyed frog, and is equally hilarious in drag as a storyteller, mother and master of ceremonies. He takes the stage, not from the wings, but by walking through the audience and stepping on empty chairs, halting briefly to chat with audience members along the way. It’s as if Miss Richfield 1981 forgot to do her hair, had thirty seconds to put on her make-up and left her pretty shoes at home. Finally, clumsily and without Miss Richfield’s graceful recoveries, Epp mounts the stage.

Even less graceful are the Jeune Lune actors when they attempt their own aerialist exploit. Gracieux seems slightly disillusioned but delighted as he dangles in his harness from the ceiling. Dazzle us with their elegance they do not. Whatever their training, the cast of “The Circus of Tales” uses every stunt and pratfall at their disposal to send the audience into hysterics.

“The Circus of Tales” plays through Feb. 16 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, (612) 333-6200.

Amy Danielson welcomes comments at [email protected]