True to its name, Cirque Boom presents
a version of Jacques Offenbach’s opera "Tales of Hoffmann"
that features many of the artists who make up family entertainment
- acrobats, puppeteers, a stilt-walker, a juggler and a clown.
But this eerie and jarring production is certainly not for children.
Directed by Ruth Juliet Wikler and staged in the cavernous, columned basement tavern of the Water Street Restaurant & Lounge in DUMBO, the "The Hoffmann Circus: A Circus Opera of the Tales of Hoffmann" is composed of three tales of lost love, which Hoffmann (David Gordon) tells his drinking buddies.
The tales are preceded by a prologue in which Nicklausse (Anna Zastrow), Hoffmann’s clown sidekick, arrives and nervously awaits him, teasing the audience with glimpses of her undergarments and silent antics. Hoffman, at last, enters, ignores Nicklausse and starts relating his tales.
In one tale, he falls in love with a woman, Olympia (Jeannie Im), who turns out to be a singing doll made by a mad scientist. In another, the object of his desire is Antonia (Amy Cheifetz), whose eccentric father forbids the romance. In the third, he is seduced by the courtesan Giulietta (Olivia Lehrman), who ends up stealing his reflection.
In the epilogue, which for some reason Cirque Boom calls a prologue, Hoffmann, weak and weary, sees his life fade before him and throws himself into the arms of Nicklausse, the forlorn and timid clown who has been sexually liberated by Giulietta. But no one, least of all Hoffman, really believes this love will last any longer than the others.
If Cirque Boom had stuck to the opera and left out all the silly frills, they would have had a fine production on their hands. Gordon, Cheifetz, Im, Jensen and Mark Womack, as the bartender, all have powerful and stirring voices. It was a great pleasure listening to them. They also have a wonderful dramatic sense and an impressive stage presence.
Unfortunately, too often this production abandons the singing in favor of bizarre, comic or merely extraneous actions that distract the audience from the real purpose of an opera - music. And if truth be told, none of the circus artists exhibited a talent to write home about: the stilt-walker actually fell, the aerial artists were sort of boring, the clown wasn’t too funny and we’ve all seen better juggling at South Street Seaport or a children’s party.
One gets the feeling that what this production really needs is someone at the helm. This is a collaborative effort with no one in charge, no one to limit excess and no one to say "no."
Wikler, who is also the founder and artistic director of Cirque Boom, trained at the Circomedia School of Circus and Physical Theatre in Bristol, England and at the Instalaccion aerial improvisation center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These are impressive credentials perhaps. But what do they have to do with opera or Offenbach?
This is not to say that opera and circus cannot be integrated. But the circus performances in "The Hoffmann Circus" seem to have no other purpose than to contribute to an atmosphere of perversity and doom. One would think any production deserves more thought than that.
In the end, this production is indeed a circus, a three-ring circus in which no one knows where to look first or why.
Cirque Boom’s production of "The Hoffman Circus: A Circus-Opera of The Tales of Hoffmann" plays through May 16, Thursday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 5 pm, at Water Street Restaurant & Lounge (66 Water St. between Dock and Main streets in DUMBO). Tickets are $12 plus a two-drink minimum, with an $18.95 pre-theater dinner special available with ticket stub before the show on Thursdays and Saturdays and after the show on Sundays. For tickets, call (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.