by Ryan Leeds
It’s good that solid ground rests under the enormous pop-up tent where Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities is currently enjoying a limited engagement at Randall’s Island Park through November 27. Otherwise, nothing would stop your jaw from dropping beneath the earth’s surface by the unbelievable acts that are taking place. If I write in hyperbolic tone, it is only because there are no other ways to describe such a rich night of entertainment, chock full of eeriness, spectacle, oddity, humor, dexterity, strength, and good old fashioned fun.
Cirque Du Soleil has been at this business for over 25 years. They have managed to debunk the kiddie-like impression of a circus with clowns, elephants, and gimmicks. You won’t find any of these here—or in any—or their productions (at least in the traditional sense.) Kurios, however, will satisfy both children and adults in a way that is clever and captivating.
Kurios is an appropriate title for this retro Victorian pastiche. You will not particularly understand why there are zaftig, bug-like robots spinning around the stage. You will also question why an oversized mechanical steel hand takes the spotlight. And what about one of the world’s smallest people popping out of a costume belly of another performer? It doesn’t matter. It all works under the guiding hand of a nutty professor and a sexy singer with a gramophone on her head. There is no story here. Instead, it seems more like a set of experiments from the learned ringmaster, all of which lead to visual wonderment and satisfaction.
From the moment the show starts, audiences are transfixed and given the endless applause that erupts after nearly every act, it is a clear crowd pleaser. I won’t ruin the surprises, but hopefully, I might at least whet the appetite?
One of the most astounding moments in the show comes during a dinner party scene where one of the performers has stacked multiple chairs in the air, balancing on each one as the structure becomes higher with each addition. That, in itself, is a feat. But wait, there’s more! While he is stacking the chairs, another dinner party is mirroring his actions—upside down—on the ceiling. You just have to see it to believe it.
Another highlight occurs in a bit executed by an incredibly agile performer. While Rum-Tum Tugger and his mercurial friends scamper about the Neil Simon theatre in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit revival of CATS, they face some stiff competition concerning feline imitation. It is unclear whether or not the audience member who was chosen to go on a “date” in Kurios was planted or picked at random, but the result was hilarious as he preened, pawed, and coughed up hairballs on his human companion. A still more impressive act followed as multiple cylinders were stacked on a large swing with a gymnast balancing atop them on a flat board.
Balancing acts have been a part of the circus since The Karamazov Brothers. Kurious takes it to a whole new level as actors spring from the ground to rest on the shoulders of a formation that is already three men deep. My only thought after watching this, and other physically demanding scenes was, “I sure hope they have a good sports medicine doctor after these shows!”
Cirque Du Soleil keeps the action going. With two hours of solid entertainment (and a 25-minute intermission) there is little reason to check your watch. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a land shared by Tim Burton, Fritz Lang, and Baz Luhrmann. In short, there is only love to convey for this show with hardly a shred of complaint or criticism.
Aside from the show itself, disappoint does come in their choice of venue. Google maps may lead you to believe that transit to Randall’s Island Park, located in the middle of the East River between northern Manhattan and Queens, is quite uncomplicated and perhaps for those who drive, it is. A large parking lot outside the tent provides ample space for motorists. But for the majority who rely on mass transit, be prepared for major inconvenience.
Public transportation, city taxis, car services, and a shuttle bus are all options, but be prepared for delays and hiccups, as I experienced in both directions.
Intermission was also problematic. Given the transient nature of events on the island, portable toilets are the only option. Lines were extremely long and the conditions were deplorable. I happened to wonder whether Neil Patrick Harris and Mario Cantone, who were spotted in the audience, had to endure the same port-a-john trauma as we “common folk.”
Still, Cirque Du Soleil managed to overrule the nuisances of the evening. In my 20-plus years as a theater spectator, it is quite possibly one the most spectacular shows I have ever seen, even if I had to cope with a lot of sh** to see it. I’m “kurios” if they’ll make any operational improvements to this hit show.
KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities
Randall’s Island Park
Through November 29, 2016
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.