Twisted Circus

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Step right up ladies and gentleman, the circus has come—or rather, is staying (at least until August 9th)—in town. But Cirque Berzerk is not your typical Barnum & Bailey’s. For starters, the banner spouts flames, the jester touts an ax, and the ringleader sports dreadlocks and a ghoulish bloody grin.

The story begins with a sullen-faced woman, lost amidst a sea of expressionless suits, who chooses to die and dwell in the glamorous underworld. Dropped from her coffin into death’s lair, she finds an unusual cabaret show, filled with 1930s-esque performers dying to show off their talents. I loved the aerial act featuring two male lovers, the fiery burlesque show with androgynous dancers (literally on fire), and the lively double trampoline act set to upbeat music. At one point the jester comes out and aggressively pulls—what else?—a hat out of a stuffed rabbit.

The ringleader carries the theme throughout, explaining how each performer died and landed in the vaudevillian variety show while the heroin observes the spectacle from the sidelines, participating only meekly before making an aerial debut of her own after the spruced-up intermission (a live band and free antique pinball machines kept the fun going). Pretty grand stuff.

Still, some aspects of Berzerk fell flat. For one, the soundtrack, performed by live “operatic sopranos,” sometimes sounded more like loud screaming than music, which distracted from the performers onstage. And, for a self-described “demented” circus, I expected it to be…well, more demented. I expected to be scared; a kind of Cirque de Soleil gone wrong. Despite these shortcomings, Berzerk provides a modern and refreshing twist on an old classic, and for that it deserves –and received—a roaring round of applause.

Photographs courtesy Pixie Vision Productions