A scrappy young circus takes up residence at the House of Yes.
If you look into the bathroom mirror at Bushwick's House of Yes and say "P.T. Barnum" three times, will an entertaining circus magically appear? You'll certainly have plenty of opportunities to try during Slumber, the slim new slumber-party-themed show that marks the first effort of circus start-up Hideaway. It is clear that the enthusiastic young acrobats and aerialists of the company really want to put on a good show, but this slapdash attempt at modern circus isn't it.
The event starts out strong: Six women in matching white underwear perform an erotically charged dance around a large mattress. Two (the incredibly agile Anya Sapoznikovah and Melissa Aguerre) execute aerial stunts right above the audience, jockeying for position on silk white sheets as they brush against those seated on the aisle. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there as this exciting and intimate opening number cedes to a barely developed wisp of a story that all too often detracts from the circus acts, rather than tying them together in a coherent narrative.
Mabel (Lee Hubilla), Olga (Olga Karmansky), and their girlfriends go for a wild night of clubbing, but an encounter with a kinky pole dancer (real-life spider-man Joren Dawson) turns Mabel into a murderous psychopath. She kills the pole dancer and then offs Olga, who catches her in the act. Then there is a 20-minute break (after just 30 minutes of action). Such a lengthy intermission may be completely necessary (they are common in circuses, especially when complicated rigging is involved), but Hideway does nothing to incorporate this pause into its storytelling or drastically alter the design: 20 minutes go by and the only noticeable change is that the center pole has been replaced by a trapeze. The stage remains strikingly bare (no set designer is credited).
Add to this that much of the first half-hour is devoted to the cast bouncing around the space in an attempt to affect a nightclub atmosphere, and one begins to sense that there's just not that much going on in Slumber. During one of these extended and mostly unchoreographed dance sequences, a cast member grabbed my shoulder while half-heartedly shouting, "Woooooo." This moment of forced merriment seemed to encapsulate the entire depressing affair.
Slumber is the creation of co-director-producers Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid. Aviner also wrote the script, although it becomes obvious from the way the actors speak that they are winging much of their dialogue. Rather than feeling fresh or immediate, it just seems awkward, like trying to BS your way through an answer in English class after failing to do the reading the night before.
As our antihero, Hubilla experiences the brunt of this. She attempts to embody the kind of humorous maniac who might feature as the villain of a Batman movie. She's completely casual and even playful as she discusses her plans to murder all her friends. "Have you lived your life to the fullest," she asks the audience while pointing her knife, like some sort of crazed motivational speaker. "Have you been the youiest you?" Sadly, her reliance on millennial clichés and marginally funny audience participation tips her character more toward annoying rather than terrifying or charming. She's not the Mabeliest Mabel she could be.
It certainly doesn't help that all of her murders are unspectacular and completely anticlimactic. It almost feels as if Aviner and Magid staged them as an afterthought: For the most part, the victims stand there and allow Mabel to stab them, like zombies in a particularly unchallenging video game. Even when she pushes someone off the top of the bar, the moment comes not with oohs and aahs, but a confused "hmmm," as the victim slowly glides over the audience in a harness. Meanwhile, prop shot glasses fall into the audience and pools of blood remain on the stage for several minutes before a crew member comes and mop them up. It seems a little like everyone is flying by the seat of their pants.
Leo Leite's fuzzy sound design exacerbates our frustration: The amplification makes it sound as though the actors are communicating to us via speaker phone, a strange sensation in such a small space. Dan Alaimo's dim lighting consists of a few LEDs that shine directly behind the cokehead trapeze segment (Sapoznikovah and Aguerre again) obscuring visibility during one of the show's few genuinely remarkable acts.
What is left is a show that is 40 percent poorly executed cool ideas, 35 percent unrefined talent, and 25 percent intermission. It's not a winning formula for a great night at the circus. Actual slumber in your own house is more enthralling, and far less dangerous.