The clown segments of most circus productions (even the impressionistic Cirque du Soleil) generally amount to mere short bursts of slapstick energy that punctuate the usual array of high wire, trapeze, tumbling, juggling and animal acts. Russian-born Dimitri Bogatirev, a veteran of Cirque du Soleil productions “Allegria” and “O,” has liberated the soul of the clown, allowing these much put-upon characters to reveal their inner passions and conceits, as well as their foibles. He has found more-than-capable allies in fellow “O” alumna Iryna Ivanytska, Ringling Brothers stilt-walking phenom Philip Karp-Briggs and Moscow Circus vet Bodya Hart.
Adorned with a white fright wig, Ivanytska sets the tone for the performance as she attempts to sweep the stage, but instead creates clouds of dust with each swipe of her broom. Momentarily perplexed by her ineffectiveness, she allows her attention to be diverted by a large red button at the side of the stage that proclaims, “Do Not Touch.” Ivanytska is immediately thrown into hilarious spasms of indecision, determination and resolve that finally give way to tentative bravery. Naturally, she unleashes a visual and aural cacophony that ushers in her compatriots.
Each performer has special talents. Baggy pants-attired Bogatirev is a master juggler, adroitly manipulating such unlikely objects as a valise and toy airplanes. Resembling a hyper-animated Marcel Marceau, Karp-Briggs darts in and out of the action, often on a unicycle and stilts. First arriving in an oversized space suit, Hart exudes the deceptive somberness of Barnum and Bailey legend Emmett Kelly combined with the physical dexterity of Buster Keaton.
High points of the evening are ensemble pieces that call for some audience participation. In one setup, Bogatirev converts a mop head into a cherished and much caressed infant, enhanced by the evocative lighting of Andrea Housh and the mood-filled music of Vassiliy Bogatiriov.
Pulling an audience member up onstage, Bogatirev tearfully gives up the infant after meticulously instructing the man on the proper way to hold and rock it. No sooner has the audience member bought into the scenario than the lights come up and Ivanytska storms onto the stage looking for her mop head. The juxtaposition of the cradling audience member and the mop handle-wielding Ivanytska is riotous.
Finale involves the entire audience; the clowns throw paper wads at the crowd, and soon the paper gives way to a succession of ever-larger inflated garbage bags that are hurled chaotically back and forth from stage to the audience, accompanied by a driving musical score. Soon the entire theater area is layered in white as the clowns and audience, especially the many attending children, become totally committed to this surrealistic gamesmanship.
There is no real message to the performance and almost no dialogue, but unlike most circus fare, “Aga-Boom” leaves the impression that one has really got to know these four white-faced characters in the silly clothes.