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Circus takes audience into strange new world

by Michelle Becker and Laren Rusin

There aren't any elephants, trapeze artists or tightrope walkers in Jones Field House this weekend.

Gooseflesh Niteclub Circus, directed by college senior Walker Lewis, pokes fun at Vaudeville acts by trying to crumble the figurative walls between the audience and the members of any performing group. It isn't theater, it isn't strictly comedy or horror; it's an attempt to interact with an audience that is used to observing a performance, not participating in one.

The stage is centered in the back of Jones Field House. The audience sits around the stage where actors are free to roam and interact with them throughout the performance, ready to shock them when necessary.

One of the goals of the circus is to fuse fear, humor and horror. The actors are a set of unhappy nightclub attendees, most of them drunk or on their way there. They perform a series of random vignettes with short interludes. There is no transition between scenes and little that connects them.

There are loose themes such as sex, bondage and aliens. In one scene, 10 strangers in a nightclub, in a dead serious manner, put condoms on their arms and heads and then blow them up. It was humorous, but there was no apparent reason for the action. There isn't time for the audience to think about what happened before the next scene begins.

Sexual encounters continue, including an interlude between two women. One was dressed in a suit and the other was in a tight, provacative outfit kneeling before the first woman. She quickly began to suck the woman' s finger, mimicking a blow job. The woman then put her hand down her pants and rocked her pelvis.

In another scene, there is a white sheet on which two shadow figures with strange lumps on their bodies poke at and touch each other. The scenes appear to be sexual, but it isn't obvious to the audience exactly what they're doing. The two bodies move in front of the curtain and they are wearing masks. They scare the three people peeping on them and puzzle the audience. They wander into the audience and then exit, leaving the audience to question what the meaning was behind the masks and the sexual act.

The most intriguing and enjoyable scene includes actors covered in trash, dancing to the steady, strong beat of drums around the stage and into the audience. The dancers are effective in using stage space throughout the scene. They resemble a group of children dancing and playing in a short scene of a "Sesame Street" episode. During the scene, the dancers are confronted by dancing janitors who attempt to clean the stage of the garbage. The chase between the dancing garbage and janitors creates unique, exciting images and, thus, draws the audience into the scene. It is fun and successful in its spontenaeity, free of bad sexual innuendos.

The orchestra was effective in animating the scenes. All the music was composed by Double-degree sophomore Zachary Layton. The costumes are flamboyant and original. In addition, the staging makes good use of the large area in Jones Field House. All these elements successfully envelop the audience into a different world, but it is a confusing one. Scenes switch moods so quickly that it turns ineffective, especially some of the scenes that are supposed to be shocking. There is one scene with two women walking two tighty-whitey clad males who, once let loose off their leashes, sniff each other's butts and then one humps the other. Meanwhile, the two women sniff each other out and squeal. It goes on too long and leaves the audience not shocked or uncomfortable, just disgusted.

It is difficult for the audience to differentiate whether the actors of the Gooseflesh Niteclub Circus are taking their scenes and interludes too seriously or if they are trying to make fun of the seriousness of Vaudeville acts with a great intensity. There are moments throughout the performance when the audience loses interest in the performance but are drawn back into it by more interesting scenes or where actors roam the audience or look for participants. Long monologues, given by a story teller and stand-up comic, and numerous unresolved scenes frustrate the audience as they sit through this performance. While the music is always clear, it often drowns out the actors' voices.

On the other hand, the costumes entice the audience's eyes, keeping them glued to the actions performed on the stage. The alien beings, the garbage dancers and the red hornet impress the audience with their creativity and intricacy. The array of lights also draw attention to the actors and their acts, maintaining the liveliness of the dark and strange circus.

The actors perform well in each scene and interlude, but the content of each of their performances lacks meaning. Should the audience look for that deeper meaning or take the scenes as they are presented? The actors tend to push the lewd aspects of the circus too far, rendering them silly, not shocking. The audience is left to question aspects of the entire performance as they are left in their seats in a strange and altogether unfamiliar atmosphere.


Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996

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