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Theatre in Review: Slumber (Hideaway/House of Yes)

Joren Dawson, Lee Hubilla. Photo: John Dolan

Everyone wants to run away with the circus, it seems. Even as Cirque du Soleil storms Broadway, the Canadian troupe has passed through New York with two more touring shows. Meanwhile, earlier in the season, St. Ann's Warehouse opened Bianco, presented by NoFit State Circus, and another attraction, Circus Now, is scheduled to arrive in the spring. (We will pause for a moment of silence for the late, lamented Big Apple Circus, which closed its doors this summer.) Each of these shows has a different scale, budget, production concept, and target audience; still, one wonders when the saturation point will be reached. It could very well have arrived with Slumber, presented at a Bushwick club/performance venue and billed as a "dark, twisted circus."

Picking up on that last comment, I was about to write that I suppose sociopaths need to be entertained, too, but, in truth, it's difficult to isolate the right demographic for this exceedingly peculiar entertainment. The acts on display are no different from those you might see at any of the above-listed circuses. There's a flying silk act, its main novelty value being that it unfolds directly above the audience's heads; the performers, Anya Sapozhnikova and Melissa Aguerre, acquit themselves perfectly well here and in an aerial ballet that has them dangling from a trapeze in various pretzel-like configurations. There's a pretty good pole act, with Joren Dawson positioned at a ninety-degree angle to the pole, flying his body like a flag, so to speak. Olga Karmansky, a contortionist, bends over backwards, twisting herself into a bizarre insect-like configuration.

So far, so-so. These are all standard acts, and even the best of them offers familiarity rather than thrills. What makes any of the current crop of circus entertainments stand out is its overall style and point of view, areas in which Slumber is deeply challenged. For openers, the action is padded out by a number of uninspired dance sequences, choreographed by Keone and Mari Madrid. In order to satisfy the dark-and-twisted mandate, Slumber has a sort-of narrative, in which a giggly, homicidal club kid-type named Mabel -- played by Lee Hubilla -- goes around killing the rest of the cast. It begins with her slitting Dawson's throat; right after that, Karmansky gets it in the neck, too. The gag is, the first killing is an accident -- a rather tedious bondage scenario goes a little too far -- with Hubilla subsequently empowered to unleash untamable homicidal impulses. Apparently, the sight of a performer in fatal convulsions, with blood spurting from his or her throat, is supposed to be a scream. In one supposedly amusing sequence, Hubilla drafts an audience member to help her kick a dead body off the stage. Hubilla's nasal, breathy voice and singsong line readings -- the lines themselves are moronic, every other sentence featuring the word "fuck," used as various parts of speech -- combined with her aren't-I-adorable manner, make these sequences among the most irritating that I have sat through all year.

Even if the acts were far more novel and the humor more, well, humorous, Slumber would still have to contend with its extreme style deficit. In this sort of entertainment, presentation is everything, and if the killing-spree through-line was ever going to amuse, it would need to be presented with some wit and a sophisticated wink. But the staging and design are as crude as the serial-murder gags. There's no set, the costumes tend toward underwear or the sort of dance-all-night togs (cutoff shorts, tank tops, shirts wrapped around waists, boots) that one might wear to a rave. The lighting is, frankly, bad; a good portion of the aerial act was impossible to make out because of lighting units aimed directly into the audience's eyes. The sound system, playing such selections as "Can't Keep My Hands to Myself" by Selena Gomez and "Baby I Come First" by Terror Jr, is passable, if unnecessarily loud.

In any case, Slumber is one of the skimpier entertainments in town. The performance I attended didn't get going until several minutes past its 7:30 curtain time; at 8:10, the show broke for a twenty-minute intermission, with an announcer urging us to visit the bar (not a bad idea, that); it was over by 9pm.

Surprisingly, Slumber lists two directors, Josh Aviner and Lyndsay Magid, although it is impossible to say what their contribution may have been. I suppose that Slumber is aimed at the twentysomething Brooklyn hipster market, but the dark-and-twisted concept is unbelievably tired; I find it extremely difficult to believe that any intelligent young person would be taken in by this empty display of vulgarity sans wit. Mabel, explaining her homicidal rampage, blames the victims, saying, "'Dem bitches only thought about their pre-game playlist, capturing their sorority squat, and other annoying things that lead to their inevitable death." This production is the inaugural effort of a new troupe named Hideaway. All I can say is, they have a long, long way to go. -- David Barbour

(12 October 2016)

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