Presented by Arts Emerson
Director, Co-Writer, and Original Idea by Vincent Dubé
A Machine de Cirque Production
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Boston, MA) In the face of the neon polish standard that is Cirque de Soleil in the Canadian acrobat scene, Machine de Cirque’s simplicity is real, grim, and refreshing. Here, the stage is covered in junk—bicycles, drums, stripped down scaffolding, juggling pins. The performers who encounter each item play and experiment, piecing the fragments into an act. It’s stunning. Perhaps a bit dark, too, as a viewer is left to wonder where, exactly, these performers are. Are these homeless young men in a junk yard? Or has the apocalypse come and gone, and they’re left with nothing but pieces in the dust of the cataclysm?
The players in question are Yohann Trépanier, Raphaël Dubé, Ugo Dario, Maxim Laurin, and Frederic Lébrasséur. The last is a multi-instrumental musician whose persona often comes off like that of Animal from The Muppet Show. He’s a barely contained wild man with an enthusiasm for percussion. His music augments the juggling, climbing, teeter-tottering, and eventual stripping. (Yes, this is an 8+ show; it makes sense and is the highlight of the show, I promise.) Lébrasséur’s stage presence is warm and funny. The other performers seem to tell jokes with body language, but they are more engaged in stunts involving bicycles and fake dates.
This show succeeds best when it feels personal. A unicyclist taking a dive off the stage to the horror of the audience and then recovers. A bunch of performers make fun of censorship laws with towels. When the Machine’s on, it’s on. Mostly, it does.
Instead of polish, the show feels like it has a porous surface where some less desirable entities have found their way in During the aforementioned unicyclist act, three other performers show up with bows on their heads, aping gaggling fan girls in weirdly skewed caricature that mostly underscores the lack of diversity regarding gender. The juggling, while inventive, also leaves more than a few pins dropped on the ground. There are moments of glorious invention, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some conventional choices.
One of the reasons I brought of Cirque du Soleil is that the show isn’t only familiar because of the presence of acrobats. It has the same general shape as is fellow Canadian production even if the esthetics are evidence of the time period in which they were conceived. Cirque du Soleil has a whiff of ‘80’s excess and sequined glamor, while Machine de Cirque feels like a show fashioned specifically for the rustic, hipster urges and post-apocalyptic fears of millennials. Though they stand in contrast to each other, they are two sides of the same coin. It’s all just a night out watching people do breathtaking, spectacular stunts.