In my review last January of the amazing Seven Fingers of the Hand Circus I talk about why I like circuses that are more raw and intimate, i.e. more "human" then the pretentious and distancing style of Cirque du Soleil. However, I was disappointed that I saw the near-to-last show, so could not send my friends out to go see one of the great performances of the year.
Last night at the recommendation of Mark Finnern I went to see Circus Contraption, a marvelous burlesque-style musical comedy circus at the very intimate setting of the CELLspace warehouse in San Francisco's Mission district. I arrived early and was able to grab a couch up front to view from (ala the Red Vic or Parkway Speakeasy movie theatres).
This year's show is "Grand American Traveling Dime Museum" which is particularly appropriate theme given the re-opening this month of the Musee Mechanique on Fisherman's Wharf. The show plays at 9pm every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in August except for August 15th and August 29th, and is only $15!
The troupe consisted of twelve players, who performed almost two dozen acts (with an intermission in the middle) that ranged from clownwork, trapeze, ropework, tumbling, acrobatics, juggling, skits, stilts, puppets, etc., all set to music. What makes Circus Contraption truly unique is the risque nature of the acts, and the raunchy exuberance of the music numbers. With the Pickles Family Circus and Seven Fingers there is often a subtext of eroticism and sensuality, but as these are family shows these themes are not overt. Circus Contraption is quite overt and fun -- definitely rated R stuff.
I'd not put the athletic complexity of the circus acts up there with Seven Fingers or Cirque du Soleil, but that is also part of what makes them so fun. I particularly liked that most of the cast participated as musicians, clowns, and performers at different points of the show, giving a dynamism to the troupe -- you never knew who was going to do what. This also gave some authentic amateurism to the show ('amateur' meaning 'to love') that was delightful.
The musicianship of the troupe was superior (sample), and was up there with the great acts. I picked up a CD when I left and listened to it on the way home and it was a quality treat. The band is also playing on Monday's this month at "The Odeon" bar at 3223 Mission (at Valencia).
So if you are in the SF Bay Area this month, go run and get yourself a ticket. I hope to go again on August 27th.