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The cast of High Heels & Red Noses
(Photo © Maike Schulz)
The beginning of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus's latest production, High Heels & Red Noses, leads spectators to think they're in for an evening of political performance, but that premise is abandoned almost as quickly as it is introduced. Security guards (Matthew Morgan and Adam Kuchler) frisk each audience member on the way in -- yes, that takes as long as it sounds -- and are occasionally interrupted by a bum (Keith Nelson), whom they keep kicking out of the theater.

Once the show begins, a mistress of ceremonies (Stephanie Monseu) in white top hat and tails and a pair of red high-heeled shoes presides over a company of circus performers. In her introductory speech and opening number, she makes a few pointed references to the gentrification of Times Square. Later in the show, there's a song about the various levels of alert set by the Department of Homeland Security -- Code Yellow, Code Orange, Code Red, and a newly created Code Blue! However, that's about it for the politics.

Unlike the downtown theatrical troupe Circus Amok, Bindlestiff has not managed to infuse this performance with activist ideology. While Circus Amok's last show, Home * Land * Security, was a hard-hitting and highly entertaining political satire, Bindlestiff only vaguely gestures towards leftist politics. And the politically inflected songs happen to be the least effective moments of the evening, at least partially due to the fact that Monseu is not a great singer.

The rest of the company entertains with a variety of circus acts performed in a small intimate house. Nelson impresses as the aforementioned bum, doing a nifty routine in which he uses a pair of sticks, a string, and a spool or two. The performer cleans up for the second act: Sharply dressed in a neon-blue suit, he swallows swords and does things with balloons that defy adequate description.

Morgan and Kuchler, as The Slapinski Brothers, offer a scantily clad, clownish gymnastic routine and an accomplished juggling act that they share with Nelson and Monseu. Kuchler is particularly entertaining in a couple of solo bits; he has a good rapport with the audience and does a cute little dance whenever he makes a mistake.

Rounding out the company is Jennifer McGowan as Svetlana, whose main contribution to the show is as a sexy hula-hoop performer, and Tanya Gagne (a co-founder of Lava and one half of the Amazing Wau Wau Sisters), who does an acrobatic routine suspended above the tiny stage of the Palace of Variety theater. The musical accompaniment heard throughout the evening, composed and performed by Raja Azar, Tim Hoey, and Peter Bufano, is excellent, and the performers time their routines to the beat.

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is entertaining, but those expecting the eye-popping stunts of Cirque du Soleil (or even a Circus Oz) will inevitably be disappointed. And, as mentioned earlier, the troupe does not offer enough in the radical politics department to give itself a distinctive identity. Press materials indicate that some of the company's previous performances have been somewhat edgy and risqué, but there is little evidence of that here. Instead, High Heels and Red Noses is safe, middle of the road entertainment -- neither a first-rate circus act nor a boundary-pushing, avant-garde political performance.

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