Surk du Solame

Circus Minimus

Abandon Productions’ Dana Hudson and Michael McCleary prove that jumper cables and shopping carts do have a place in the theater.

Abandon Productions’ Dana Hudson and Michael McCleary prove that jumper cables and shopping carts do have a place in the theater.

Rated 4.0

Little boxes inside boxes. You buy a ticket to Abandon Productions’ Circus Minimus—but once you’re seated, you learn that you’re about to see Surk du Solame, a group “from a remote European country,” with a passing reference to the famous Cirque du Soleil.

It’s the modus operandi of Abandon’s artistic director, Doniel Soto, who likes to stir viewers’ expectations.

The circus performers come on stage—actually, it’s a cold concrete floor inside a stark, once-industrial metal shed, with scattered towels here and there to absorb drips from the slightly leaky roof. They are wearing raincoats, hobbling on single crutches and chanting a cappella.

And it’s consciously “minimus”—no sets, no sound system, scarcely any words, scant props, and the simplest of lights, blazing construction lamps from a hardware store. No one else in the area produces theater like this.

And that begs another question, at least among those who’ve followed Abandon’s intriguing productions these past two years: Which side of Soto are we about to see? The serious guy who dealt with American history and evolution in Stream of Consciousness and Subject to Change? Or, the puckish observer who did a takedown of the cell-phone age (using clowns) in Sorta?

The answer—enigmatic as always—is both and neither. Soto’s focus in this 75-minute show is the French-Canadian/European cirque phenomenon. Initially, the approach is broadly smirking. The performers—Ed Tracy, Mary Falconer, Somer Lowery, Samantha Ostermiller, Dana Hudson and Michael McCleary—strut into position, perform surpassingly ordinary feats, such as hanging a big plastic ring on an outstretched arm, and then strike a heroic pose with a beaming smile, begging applause.

It’s quite funny. The trick is in the execution; this routine could wilt quickly. But the performers sustain interest for longer than I’d have thought possible. Then, just when you think they’ve milked the concept too long, the comedy expands into broader dimensions.

There’s an imaginative piece involving several performers and a horizontal stepladder. There’s an acrobatic runaround involving a shopping cart. And there’s a marvelous totem-pole human sculpture with stacked-up faces.

The program ends with a routine involving bending bodies and draped blankets, creating one contortionist Buddha. This routine bears kinship to a striking scene from last October’s performance by Cirque Éloize at the Mondavi Center, right down to the music. Soto swears he didn’t see that show. I don’t doubt him. Soto teaches part time at the California State University at Sacramento, and the school’s faculty seems to suffer from collective “Mondavi envy,” which is to say they’re only grudgingly warming to the concept of attending events “over there.”