Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guest Post: "What Happens Next?" - a trip to the New Victory by Michael Reisman

Thought it would be interesting to have a different view of going to the circus.

Michael Reisman is the Director of IT for the New Victory Theater. He is the father of William (5) and Lila (2). Michael & William were at the same show that AA & I were at, and although at this point we hadn't met-- I remember hearing William ask "What happens Next!"

All photos are by Amanda Russell (who is Jamie Adkins' wife!)


My son William and I have been coming to The New Victory Theater ever since he’s been old enough to sit still for an hour. Now that he’s five, his body sits still but his mind doesn’t. He’s always asking “what happens next?” This past Saturday, watching Jamie Adkins’s one-man show, Circus INcognitus, the variety of the gags and stunts keeps William riveted and guessing “what happens next?”

Before the show starts, I plop him down on the booster seat. As we look round the ornate hundred-year-old auditorium filling with kids and their parents, his mind is already racing. He looks up at the plaster angels perched way above in the theater’s dome and asks, “How do they stay up there? Are they glued in?” “Are they going to fall down?” No, they’re not going to fall.

The lights dim; he knows what’s next. “I think it’s starting.”

jamie1.jpgThe show is a breezy hour showcasing Adkins’s considerable physical skill and humor. He takes a piece of paper and creases it (“Is he making a paper airplane?”) to balance it on his nose. When he puts on each article of a suit and tie but keeps losing his hat, William predicts, “His hat’s going to fall off again.”

Adkins poises himself to catch oranges thrown by audience members with the prongs of a fork in his mouth. “Is he going to catch it?” (After many bad throws, which our clown criticizes wordlessly, yes, he does.)

Adkins’s clowning style is the kind that my son and I can appreciate on the same level. Like the Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy shorts we’ve watched together, its silliness doesn’t pander and doesn’t have a prescribed viewing age. For me, the funniest moments are small ones. Adkins repeatedly (amazingly) shoots a grape from his mouth onto a fork, then absent-mindedly eats it; when he tries to repeat the trick, he takes a couple of beats to wonder where his prop has gone. The biggest laugh from William is when he tries to paddle a ping pong ball over his shoulder into a suitcase; he meticulously measures the angle, then paddles the ball squarely into his own head.

The biggest “What comes next” is the inspired set piece we’d both been anticipating (thanks to the preview video on the New Vic website) when an old ladder splits in two, and Adkins must balance between the two stilts as they threaten to fall in either direction. When he uses half of the broken ladder to rig a rope across the stage, William guesses, “He’s making a tight-rope.” I clarify: no, see how it’s loose? He adjusts his prediction: “I think he’s making a loose-rope.” And when he precariously walks the rope: “I think he’s going to fall.” We’ll see. “No, really! He’s going to fall!”

Other parents and grandparents frequently glance at their children for a reaction: a smile? Rapt attention? Confusion? I have no reason to look over. William talks back to the stage like it’s amateur night at the Apollo. Despite my shushing, he’s convinced he’s having a dialogue with the performer and everyone else in the audience. Halfway through the show, I give up on shushing, realizing he’s absolutely right.

When it’s over, my revved up companion and I walk past the posters on 42nd street advertising the season’s remaining shows. “What are we going to see next?” I point to the photo of players operating foam puppets under the title, Mischief. “What’s that show all about?” You’ll have to see.

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