KPBS AIRDATE: March 24, 1995
Here’s my hypothetical bedroom scenario. Husband to wife: “Ah, ma cherie. Come to bed.” Wife to husband: “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m just affixing every dish, glass, pot and pan in the kitchen to my clothes and ears and shoulders and knees, then I’m gonna play a song with them. I’ll be in bed in a jiffy.” Scene two. The bedroom. The next night. Husband to wife: “Come to bed, ma petite fleur.” Wife to husband. “Look at this, Honey. If I pull my nightgown up over my head like this, I can turn myself into a horse, then a dragon, and then an ostrich. Whaddaya think?”
I’ve always been fascinated by circus performers and how they come up with the strange acts they devise. I mean, who first thought of twirling plates on a stick. And why?? But the weirdest of the weird comes to us via the La Jolla Playhouse. It’s called Le Cirque Invisible, the Invisible Circus. The whole circus is composed of said French-American couple: Victoria Chaplin, an aerialist and acrobat, one-woman kitchen band and human Transformer; she of the royal blood, being daughter of Charlie Chaplin and granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill, and her husband Jean Baptiste Thierrée, a clown-magician of sorts.
They don’t talk very much onstage; he a little, she not at all. One gets the feeling he may not know too much English. Or even too much magic. He seems to be the comic relief between her outlandish, sometimes daredevil acts. She makes all the costumes, chooses or creates all the music. He occasionally makes animals appear and disappear (small stuff, a few rabbits and birds). And he juggles — not two, but three balls. Wow.
A good part of his act is dressing like his props: wearing a zebra suit, carrying a zebra suitcase and reading a zebra striped book. Ditto with tapestry. He bungles his tricks. He smiles a goofy smile that goes with his cotton candy hair. He sports outfits that make it look like his head is on his back or in a bucket. Meanwhile, she takes all the risks — on the low-wire, swinging out over the audience on a long rope, folding herself into a toaster-sized box. It’s weird, that’s all I can say.
These new vaudevillians, to be honest, leave me cold. But a lot of the audience was plum hysterical. Personally, I prefer imagining their creation of the tricks to actually watching them. But if what you’ve heard is what you like, you’re gonna love the Invisible Circus. For me, more invisible would’ve been better.
The same goes for actress Karen Black and her one-woman show, “A View of the Heart,” currently at the Theatre in Old Town. Maybe she could use a tune played on the pots and pans to liven things up. Although she does have a very skilled backup band.
But her show, an unfocused mishmash of music and literature, is more contrived than Thierrée’s magic, more unbelievable than Chaplin’s metamorphoses. Black is known for her film work, from “Five Easy Pieces” to “The Great Gatsby,” “The Day of the Locust” and “Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” She has proven herself to be a skilled character actress. But you’d never know it here.
Not one moment of this show feels authentic; there is not one credible or genuine emotion. When she talks directly, conspiratorially to the audience, we don’t believe a word of it. It sounds like a memorized script, not in any way like a real conversation. Her singing is uninspired, often flat. It’s no wonder she’s not known for musicals. The only vaguely comic and talent-ridden moment was when she showed how each of her singing teachers tried to make her over in their own images and styles. But the bit went nowhere.
The pieces from Faulkner and Katherine Anne Porter were ho-hum, and, far worse, Black managed to do a lot of damage to some perfectly wonderful songs, like “Me and Bobbie McGee,” “Send in the Clowns,” Janis Ian’s “Jesse” and David Bowie’s “Time.” The arrangements, though well played, had nothing to do with her vocal abilities, and less to do with the meaning or intention of the songs themselves. The main focus here was on abandoned women. Black’s blues weren’t aching and heartfelt; they were phony and forced.
The entire enterprise was misconceived by Black and her collaborator Toni Basil. Contrary to its title, it had no heart at all.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.