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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

Theatre Gigante’s ‘A Little Business at the Big Top’

High Storytelling Through Circus Arts

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Theatre Gigante opened its 26th season with A Little Business at the Big Top and The Scottish…Play, two short plays developed by graduates of Paris’ Ecole Jacques Lecoq school of physical theater. Taken together, the works make for a hilarious and insightful night’s entertainment.

The first piece, Malcolm Tulip’s The Scottish…Play, is an edgy, farcical look at three actors in their dressing room preparing for a performance of Shakespeare’s classic. As in the great tragedy, all seems well at first, but rolling blackouts, punctuated by ominous thunderclaps and the swells of highland pipes, set the three characters into increasingly absurd fits of panic and violence.

Gigante founder Isabelle Kralj was brilliant as Lady M, meting out casual cruelty, babying a small stuffed dog named “Spot” (yes, the famous “Out, damn spot!” line was commandeered to comedic effect) and convincingly playing out her character’s descent into madness. Co-founder Mark Anderson was both endearing and disturbing as Banquo’s ghost, coddling the nude, decapitated baby dolls that are tossed about throughout the performance and becoming quite a convincing ghoul after smearing red and white stage makeup over his face. Long-time collaborator John Kishline rounded out the triad in the title role, paralleling the indecision and submissiveness of his Shakespearean forbear through incompetent stage makeup application and the ferocious flailing of an apple knife. It’s a real treat to see the classic tragedy, with its patent themes of insanity and greed, so precisely evoked through light-hearted clowning.

Following an intermission smoothed by the sounds of French jazz (credit Loren Watson for the tasteful sound design), David Gaines took the stage with all the poise and virtuosity of a story-telling dancer for the evening’s title piece. The performance was conducted in pantomime and non-lingual sound effects, along with simple but surprisingly comprehensible physical devices used to switch characters and locations; no props were present. In this incredibly challenging and exhausting mode, Gaines unfurled an epic of love, lust, danger and good trumping evil set under the big top. The audience investment and co-imagination essential to this style of performance were happily given, to eerie and miraculous effect.
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