Big Top in a Little Theater is a Big Win
The Dragon Theater has put together a complex production that thoughtfully deals with life, death, love, loss, performance and reality in equal measures. Set against a backdrop of 1936 Berlin, Cirque Exotique du Monde tells the story of societal outcasts struggling to continue as the Nazi party takes control of Germany.
Despite some pacing flaws in the script, this show is the same caliber one would expect from a larger-name theater like Berkley Rep. The show expertly contrasts the world of circus whimsy with the heavy political climate of the time and moments of absurdly dark humor to make a truly wonderful show that you don’t want to miss.
The script, by Bay Area local, Kathy Boussina, elegantly deals with issues of race and physical differences while not making the play about those issues. The story expertly weaves together the fantasy of a circus with the harsh realities of Nazi Germany without belittling the importance of either side.
Lead Actress, Lisa Burton, would be worth the ticket price on her own. She plays a performer who must pretend to be her recently deceased husband in order to keep the circus in business. Burton has the unenviable task of playing a character who the audience knows is playing another character, who is then performing in a circus. This confusion of personality, performance and motivation is expertly sorted out by Burton who leads the audience through the show with grace despite the increasingly dire circumstances.
That is not to say that the show is without its flaws. While the script’s pacing issues generally resolve themselves by act two, several moments in the beginning of the play stretch on so long that they make you wonder if someone missed their entrance cue. Additionally, the first two scenes are so full of new names and characters that the audience is just along for the ride with little to no understanding of what’s going on until later in the show.
Then there’s the issue of the aerial hammock, easily one of the coolest and confusing parts of the show. At the beginning and end of the first act, a woman performs twists in a pieces of cloth hung from the ceiling like you might see in Cirque du Soleil. While aerialist Kasia Meow, gave a wonderful performance expertly lit and paired with music, it does nothing to add to the plot or propel the story forward.
While it’s easy to nitpick certain elements, the overall show is wonderful. Sad and heartwarming, thoughtful and funny, Cirque Exotique du Monde really has it all. It’s rare to find a show that deals with Germany on the eve of WWII without being consumed by it. The show is, first and foremost, about people. These people struggle to survive in the increasingly topsy-turvy world around them. They greet the world with black humor and adapt as best they can until they find their breaking point, and it makes for a wonderful show.
Cirque Exotique du Monde runs Thursdays through Sundays, September 15 to October 8, 2017 at the Dragon Theater at 2021 Broadway Street, Redwood City. Tickets range from $15 - $35 or $175 for a four-person VIP box. The show runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission and includes some heavy, adult themes.
Photos Courtesy of the Dragon Theater