Review: ‘Absinthe’

The acro-burlesque variety show "Absinthe" was a surprise hit last summer, bringing crowds to a tent at South Street Seaport during an eight-week visit. Hence this year's extended three-month season, along with the addition of separate-admission companion piece "La Vie," which opened July 9. This year's "Absinthe" is all new, with the exception of Nate Cooper from Brooklyn (succinctly described in press materials as a "juggler on skates who turns into drag and juggles knives on pogo stick"). Unfortunately, the 2007 edition is not quite up to last year's.

The acro-burlesque variety show “Absinthe” was a surprise hit last summer, bringing crowds to a tent at South Street Seaport during an eight-week visit. Hence this year’s extended three-month season, along with the addition of separate-admission companion piece “La Vie,” which opened July 9. This year’s “Absinthe” is all new, with the exception of Nate Cooper from Brooklyn (succinctly described in press materials as a “juggler on skates who turns into drag and juggles knives on pogo stick”). Unfortunately, the 2007 edition is not quite up to last year’s.

Things get off to a sluggish start with the two actors who split emcee duties. Paul Capsis comes out like a faux-Alan Cumming, without the charm, and proceeds to channel Marlene Dietrich singing “Big Spender.” He later gives us Judy Garland and Janis Joplin.

There’s also an insult comedian, obviously patterned on Borat, who for no apparent reason is called the Gazillionaire (Voki Kalfayan). He started his spiel at a preview by practically attacking a distinguished member of the press, welcoming the not-very-many straight people in the audience, as well as members of other minorities (“look — a black man!”), and putting the audience at ease (“if you’re sitting in these seats, you’re going to get kicked in the fucking face”).

Fortunately, the Gazillionaire’s scatter-brained (and foul-mouthed) assistant, Penny (Anais Thomassian), is a total delight. A fine comedienne, Thomassian generates laughs throughout.

The kick-in-the-face comment is not much of an exaggeration. Between the numerous aerialists and a skating act that practically explodes off the small stage, show offers plenty of audience contact. When the aforementioned Cooper, wearing a gown and high heels, starts juggling sabers while bouncing on a pogo stick, front-row patrons certainly appreciate just how up-close they are.

The troupe also includes the Duo Scarlette, who perform separate acts — one on a swing (Marieve Hemond), the other on two flying ropes (Annie-Kim Dery) — and later combine for an airborne pas de deux; a lanky fellow (Olaf Triebel) in striped pajamas with a teddy bear who balances and twirls himself around on one hand; and the Flying Willers, featuring a middle-aged Elvis type on roller skates who tosses around a girl, also on skates. Feet and arms fly from the tiny disc of a stage, giving the effect of a 3-D movie — without the glasses, but with real hazards flying out at you.

Two acts stand out. Julie Atlas Muz climbs onstage carrying a huge bubble-balloon, looking like the old White Rock girl. (Raise your hand if you remember the old White Rock girl.) She dances around with the bubble, a sapphire-colored tassel peeking out from behind her gray, fairy-like smock; opens the end of the bubble and sticks her head in; and then, after slipping out of her heels and everything but the g-string, climbs wholly into the bubble. How else to end this act? She digs out a pin, hidden in what’s left of her costume, and pops her cover. This may or may not be an old burlesque act; no matter, it’s certainly novel and perfect for this beer-garden funhouse.

The other laugh-out-loud spot comes “direct from Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas extravaganza ‘Le Petit Merde’: Ivan and Ivanka Chekhov Jones.” This is the Gazillionaire and Penny in spandex body suits and impossible wigs, doing one of those artsy-erotic new age acro-dances. If only all of “Absinthe” were as funny as this. Even so, there’s enough edgy entertainment on hand to please target audiences.

Absinthe

Spiegelworld; 320 seats; $69 top

Production

A Ross Mollison and Vallejo Gantner presentation of a circus in two acts. Directed by Wayne Harrison. Opened July 10, 2007. Reviewed July 8.

Creative

Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

The Gazillionaire - Voki Kalfayan Penny - Anais Thomassian Singer - Paul Capsis
With: Olaf Triebel, the Willers, Raphaelle Boitel, Nate Cooper, Duo Scarlette (Marieve Hemond, Annie-Kim Dery), Adil Rida, Julie Atlas Muz.
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