Monday, April 2, 2007

Send in the clowns

I didn't see any plays this weekend, but I did make time for a few broadly theatrical experiences. On Saturday morning I joined my sister and brother-in-law and their two boys, and some of their young friends, at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at Madison Square Garden. This was a new experience for me -- I may have been to the circus once or twice when I was little, but not since I can remember, and I've seen the nail-biting pachyderm-pyramid scene in Dumbo many times, but that doesn't really count. Anyway, watching the action was fun, but watching the kids watch the action was more fun. We were all most impressed by the animal acts -- I think I'm supposed to be morally opposed to the animal acts, but what can I say? They're neat. I will say that my favorite act was probably the dogs, because they did really cool tricks without balking, and I didn't have to worry that anybody might die as I looked on. The horses' "tricks" were comparatively lackluster, and the tigers looked really grudging and irritable when asked to perform. The elephants were impressive, but not as impressive as the ones in Dumbo -- seriously, if you haven't seen that movie lately, check it out, because that is a great scene. I laughed when they emerged wearing enormous "Bello" wigs, but I felt a little bad for them, too, majestic beasts that they are. Whereas teaching a poodle to do backflips doesn't seem particularly cruel, or beneath its dignity. (My 2 1/2-year-old nephew, on the other hand, liked "the guy who flipped over the tigers" best.)

I was surprised by the half-assed approach to the theatrical and structural elements of the performance, most particularly the focus on "Bello," the star of this particular show. This Bello person is plainly a great acrobat and a good clown, but as a character he has less personality than your average minor league baseball mascot, and so the idea that we're supposed to be invested in him, or even able to tell him apart from the other clowns, rings a bit hollow. The kids never even learned his name, despite the fact that the first half closed with a song that went, "It's a Bello-Bello-Bello-Bello-Bello-Bello-Bello-Bello-bration!" (Repeat 17 million times.) In fact, during the "Wheel of Steel" act (harrowingly discussed here), my 4-year-old nephew was shouting, "Be careful, Nikolas!" to Bello's performing partner. I think part of the problem may be that the folks at The Greatest Show on Earth don't seem to realize that the character needs a bio different from that of the man who plays him ("Demetrius Nock," apparently) -- click on "Read More" to see what I mean. (I also love the way they capitalize "Children Of All Ages.")

The weekend's other semi-theatrical event: Palm Sunday Mass! Complete with participatory reading of the Passion Gospel ("Crucify him!") and props (palm branches)! Not to mention ill-behaved Children Of All Ages, poking each other with their palms, cutting in line for Communion, and generally failing to observe that church is a quiet place. Grumpiness aside, we have entered Holy Week, so blogging will probably be light as the Triduum approaches. You gotta have priorities!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Bello was a bit despondent when you saw him on Saturday because of this: content/article/2007/04/01/ AR2007040100699.html

Mollie said...

Poor Bello and his poor tiny bike! I think the "Wheel of Steel" routine would be even cooler if the Wheel apparatus was only 6 inches wide...