Prospero's Magic Island

Adapted from William Shakespeare by Bob Colonna
Directed by Bob Colonna
At the Pan -Twilight Circus
various MA and RI locations Through August 3rd

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

Pan-Twilight Circus, based in Providence, Rhode Island, and "about very old ideas and very old relationships -- concerned only with love, discovery, and fun!", pitched its miniature Big Top on a playground in Sommerville, a working-class suburb of Boston, the weekend of July 9-12. The last two weekends in July the tiny circus will be in Rhode Island again: catch it if you can. Pan-Twilight's show, Prospero's Magic Island, is a cross between Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and the small scale family -based circuses that once played vacant lots in isolated crossroads towns all across the country. The idea is that Shakespeare's word-magic and the juggler's agility both speak to the same sense of wonder -- and a clown is a clown, after all. Here, Prospero (Algernon D'Ammassa) is the ring-master, of course, and Ariel is an aerialist : or rather, three aerialists (Chelsea Bacon, Ivy Brunerle, Jennifer Richman-Cohen) putting their agility through a set of choreographed mood pieces that express the essence of tricksy sprite rather than performing a series of acrobatic stunts.

The Circus "Tempest" is boiled down to a bare minimum, barely enough for a Classic Comic, and that minimum, strangely, is focused on the Ferdinand-Miranda (Thomas Sgouros-Anne Gardiner) romance rather than the cops-and-robbers usurpation plot which is more likely to appeal to cartoon-conditioned kids. This Prospero and Miranda were merely out for a boat ride when they were blown to the magic isle, and no evil brother turns up to be punished for his cruel treachery. Caliban (Adam Gertsacov) is a big puppet who in no way resembles a fish, so that whole delicious slapstick scene with its kid-pleasing stench jokes is foregone. Stephano & Trinculo (Jens Larson & Nick Goldsmith) are silent juggling mimes.

It is probably just as well that there's not much of Shakespeare's verbal poetry in this performance, since nobody who does speak speaks the Bard's lines very well. Nobody's particularly impressive as a circus performer, either -- yet somehow the whole event is utterly disarming, poetic in its own way. I started smiling as soon as I entered the Pan-Twilight tent and heard the band -- hurdy-gurdy, accordion, violins, bassoon, guitar, -- playing Steven Jobe, Matthew Everett & Alec Redfearn's rich and strange version of midway music, magically modal stuff with a jaunty gypsy melancholia; and I was still smiling as I pulled into my own driveway three hours afterwards.

My child-companions were charmed, too. Jeremy, age 14 months, was mesmerized. I suppose it was because right now his whole being is concentrated on learning physical skills, and the sight of people hanging upside down and dangling by their heels and keeping six balls in the air opens a whole new area of exploration for him. Alex, age seven, hadn't quite got the idea that Pan-Twilight is like the pre-electronic theatre, where we must be quiet lest we disturb the performers, rather than like TV or Ringling Brothers, where amplification assures that his comments will go unnoted. But all Alex's comments were complimentary, and the boy is ready to sign up for juggling and trapeze lessons tomorrow.