Yes, another circus show has come to town with players who display breath-taking athleticism in all its cheeky glory.
Machine de Cirque, directed and co-written by Vincent Dube. Music by Frederic Lebrasseur. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount Mainstage, 559 Washington St., Boston, through October 2.
By Robert Israel
“Damn everything but the circus!” the poet e.e. cummings once wrote, “damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won’t get into the circle, that won’t enjoy.”
Cummings’ sentiment is alive and well and expressed with flair by the visiting Quebec troupe Machine de Cirque – five lithe and limber men who perform imaginative juggling, risk-defying scaffold dangling, and an assortment of sundry acrobatic feats in yet another circus-arts show in downtown Boston. While there is much to commend about this production, surely there must be theatergoers who yearn for more choices. After all, it was just a few months ago when ArtsEmerson presented another Quebec-based circus troupe 7 Doigts de la Main.
Machine de Cirque is anything but “grim, dull, motionless.” During a ninety-minute performance, the troupe’s members infuse considerable amounts of joy into episodes of controlled mayhem, even if the first fifteen minutes or so seems more like a warmup, with the players exercising their prowess like gym rats on the scaffolding. At the same time, Frederic Lebrasseur, who plays numerous instruments, bangs on tin cans, all the better to distract us.
Once the men get fired up, though, there’s no stopping them. During several of their routines, I was reminded of Rube Goldberg, the twentieth-century cartoonist and inventor who concocted fabulous machines with interconnecting gears that performed exquisitely trivial functions, like his famous “Self-Operating Napkin” that wiped the spillage from Professor Butts’ bewhiskered chin whilst he was engaged in slurping soup. For the Machine de Cirque performers, there are similar complicated creations that make use of HVC tubing, bicycle parts, chains, tires, a robe, and other found objects. At one point musician Lebrasseur straps one of these weird devices to his back, ascends the scaffolding, and plays the invention while the other men comport themselves like monkeys let loose from their cages.
Rube Goldberg isn’t the only surrealist influence. If you look closely at a couple of the skits, you will see flickers of some Belgian painter Renee Magritte’s dark whimsy, particularly his deadpan image of men wearing bowler hats. But the Machine de Cirque troupe does not share Magritte’s startling pessimism. Their performances are dedicated to bringing mirth into our lives, and they succeed admirably.
Watch Yohann Trepanier ride his bicycle on stage, arms outstretched. Then gasp as he succeeds in pedaling the bike backwards. There are more gasps in store when Raphael Dube performs gracefully on unicycles of varying sizes, including one that seems to scrape the roof of the auditorium. There is a skit involving plucking a comely lass from the audience, an audience participation bit last attempted by the obnoxious performer Meow Meow in her overindulgent ArtsEmerson appearance awhile back. Thankfully, these performers have checked their egos at the Paramount lobby.
I will not be a spoiler: the most enjoyable skit revolves around the ‘Machiners,’ who shed their skivvies and employ crisply starched towels to perform a bubble dance that elicits laughter and applause. It’s a ‘wink wink nudge nudge’ number that works — generating memorable servings of joy.
Yes, yet another circus show has come to town with players who display nimble athleticism in all its cheeky glory.
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.