Bedbugs in the night
Some ex-Chicoans bring their developing Cirkus act back from the big city
Last Wednesday and Thursday, a group of ex-Chicoans now living in the Bay Area returned to the valley with an intriguing new performance troupe called the Cirkus Plexus for two shows at the Senator Theater.
At heart, the group is a network, with each individual (16 of them) functioning to support then strengthen the others. A job well done means that the entire system—a system of balance, equilibrium, flexibility, and communication—works. And the result of this working system is a theatrical combination drama-comedy-circus-skit-concert that leaves the onlooker amused, engaged, charmed and, at times, flabbergasted.
Take, for instance, a highlight such as the Bedbug Scene, in which two giant elasticized pieces of cloth (they appear to be Lycra) dropped from the rafters, side by side. Into the bottom of each piece crawled two little beings: bedbugs.
The visual effect was that of a giant set of bull testicles: long and skinny from way up into the rafters, hanging low and round at the bottom. Before the act began, I could already feel laughter bubbling up from my stomach. The impact would vary, I imagine, depending of the size and space of the venue; in the vastness of the Senator Theatre, this set of balls seemed to be the only thing in the universe.
Then, as the balls began to move, we saw two mischievous little bedbugs (played by Karisha Longaker and Sara Rose) come out to bug the bed of Owl (Onnah Sisk) and Pussy Cat (Sara Rose), the protagonists of the story within the story. A sensational acrobatic act followed that had the bedbugs “crawling” up and down the sheaths of cloth as nimbly as bedbugs might in actuality.
The girls, having mastered the art of latex acrobatics, shimmied up, slid down, balanced on, posed with and swung from the latex in a truly exciting show of air and gymnastics. Plus they both looked really cute while at it.
After the bedbugs had evacuated the bed, the show cut back to the saga of Owl and Pussycat, who represented two parts of the psyche of The Armless Man (played by Zebra), who in turn was dreaming about the conflict between Logic (Owl) and Emotion (Pussy Cat). Sound complicated? Well, it was—kind of.
And herein lay the fundamental problem with the show: It sacrificed clarity for an exciting sense of circus-like variability. The story line, which was difficult to follow completely because of the way sound got swallowed up in the cavernous Senator, meandered into the realm of confusion.
But on this night (Thursday) there were extended moments of amazing human balance and flexibility, as well as some tight storytelling, such as the Bus Skit, written by Zebra, in which we witnessed a bus full of people (six passengers in all) get blown up by a bomb strapped to a woman. The writing here was clear, finite and moving, the acting simple and strong; watching the scene was like taking a deep breath in and then letting it out in a sigh of completion. It felt good to watch that scene in spite of its morbid nature. The only problem is that the scene didn’t assimilate into the rest of the show very well.
What the moments of fantastic physicality (including an acrobalancing scene in which Zoi and Karisha Longaker, clad in bright-green body suits, flew, bounced and tumbled around and on top of one another in a delightful display of trust and physical abandon) and incredible authorship had in common was a deep, palpable level of communication within the troupe.
There was also music, wonderful live music, which provided a through-line from the beginning to the end of the show and beyond into a dance party celebration of collaborative creativity. And in the shine of the eyes of the dancing actors, writers, acrobats, and musicians, you could see a little bit of satisfaction combined with a whole lot of potential.
So go to their next show. It’s in San Francisco on Thursday, June 27, at 8 p.m. at The Cell Space.