“Cirque of the Dead” Review 2018: Damned Good Time

Presented by Boston Circus Guild
Directed by Joseph C. Walsh

October 19 – October 31, 2017
The Oberon
2 Arrow Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Cirque of the Dead on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Cambridge, MA) A possessed contortionist, a painting that springs to life to ensnare its painter, a clan of vampires, and a burlesque zombie who strangely (and seductively?) tears off and eats their own skin during their aerial act. Yes, it is Halloween for the Boston Circus Guild. This year, they successfully walk the line between disturbing and beguiling. The show is fragmented into circus acts, yes, but the pieces cohere into a complete (if possessed) picture.

While last year’s Cirque of the Dead went in for a broader Jumanji parody, this year, the disapparate elements of the show lineup more evenly this season with a creepy frame narrative that also hits the nostalgia spot: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books! Specifically, the emcee, Tim Ellis, has found a definitely-not-demonic mysterious book. Said not-at-all-creepy artefact allows him to conjure the very trapeze and hoop acts the audience enjoys for the evening.

The show is interactive, at least to an extent. This is a collection of pieces where the audience’s energy absolutely makes or breaks the action. Tim Ellis appears to be a pro in keeping the enthusiasm up and the focus taught. Still, because of this set-up, the night I went, Ellis seemed a bit disconcerted at the “drunk wolves” that began to howl after the first intermission with little interest in stopping.

My favorite acts include Chase Brennan and Dylan Tully as an evil painting and innocent painter, respectively, Fonda Feeling as a grim zombie who lurches believably but stealthily, and Siena Moon as a personified clock by way of the Saw series. There’s a lot to enjoy this year. I’m so Spleased I found time to go.

Some of the other acts during the show, however, went a bit long. I’m not sure I would have gotten rid of any of the acts completely, but I would have shaved some time off of them collectively. By the time the sirens were out to seduce the emcee, I was ready for the curtain. “Short and punchy” is a more effective style for burlesque and circus performances than “long and wandering,” even if the latter lends itself well to a haunted atmosphere.

The sexuality sits more easily within the rest of the show than it did last year. Burlesque is not just an art about sex, but about sexuality, a long tease that envelopes the audience with strong emotion. Like a good scare, it’s drawn out just enough, but not too much.

I found this year’s Cirque of the Dead a worthy escape. With A Quiet Place, Hereditary, the Suspiria remake, and the follow-up to Halloween breaking box office records this year, horror seems to be the cathartic thump in the night for which people are hungering. Control your fear of the unknown by seeking it out and making it known. What better answer to a horrifying present than a mastery of horrifying fiction?


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