A scene from Cirque Mechanics in Birdhouse Factory
(© Darin Basile)
A scene from Cirque Mechanics in Birdhouse Factory
(© Darin Basile)
Had New Age circuses like Cirque du Soleil existed in the 1920s and 1930s and if Harold Clurman and The Group Theatre had gotten together to create one, the result might have been something like Cirque Mechanics' delightful Birdhouse Factory, running at the New Victory Theatre.

From the music that plays before the show starts, such as "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," and the dingy 1930s costumes that the performers wear as they walk onstage before entering the factory at which they work, it seems as though we've hit classic Elmer Rice territory. Once the gray-blue doors to the factory open, any sense of humdrum factory existence disappears as the workers' jobs and movements spring to life as circus acts and with sharply staged choreography.

Directed with aplomb by Chris Lashua, the show tells a wonderfully whimsical tale about what happens when a bird flies into the building. Soon, the workers are scrambling up the overhead lights to try to catch it, allowing Sagiv Ben Binyamim and Elisabeth Carpenter to do a terrific rope aerial act on two of the overhead lights. Their athletic movements are made all the more exciting by the lights that are attached to the ends of the ropes and that swirl into theatregoers' eyes almost hypnotically.

These antics and others attract the attention of the factory's boss (Patrick McGuire), who is particularly annoyed with the good-hearted Harold Lloyd-type clown (the almost painfully appealing and winsome Jesse Dryden) who is really very concerned about the bird that's gotten into the factory. When these two square off, it gives McGuire the opportunity to perform his truly impressive juggling-slash-balancing act, using an umbrella, a bowler hat, and briefcase. Ultimately, the clowning gets the best of the boss, and he loses the factory. It's then turned over to the clown, who, inspired by the winged visitor to the factory, decides that they should make birdhouses.

More hijinks and amazing circus acts ensue. There's a terrifically sharp turn on the German Wheel (normally performed by Russ Stark, but deftly executed by Lashua at a recent press performance), and a wonderfully balletic turn from Aloysia Gavre (who also served as the show's choreographer) on the aerial hoop. The show culminates in what seems to be a gravity-defying trampoline act that's set against one wall of the factory performed by Stark, Wes Hatfield, and Michael Redinger. Oohs and aahs come almost involuntarily from audiences as this trio jumps off a high platform onto the trampoline only to rebound to a standing position after executing aerial somersaults, back flips, and more.

Initially, lighting designer Heather Basarab cloaks Sean Riley's abstract industrial scenic design in dingy shadows, but once the factory has been turned over to its workers, her work, like the show itself, becomes more playful, only fitting for a trip to this factory that's really no work at all for audiences of all ages.