Review: Circus Center presents “The Supers: A Science-Fiction Human Cartoon” at Z Space (*****)

by Charles Kruger

(L – R) Joel Baker, Kaylamay Suarez, Guilhem Milhau, Maureen McVerry, Sara Moore, DeMarcello Funes. Photo Credit: Fernando Gamberoni.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

If you attend “The Supers”, presented by Circus Center at Z Space, expect to be confused, puzzled, perhaps irritated, and ultimately astounded and delighted. Described variously, as a “human cartoon,” a “cartoon opera,” and a “clown opera”, this production is nothing if not unique.

This remarkable company of circus artists create characters that, for all their similarity to you and I, are not quite what we know as human. They are a special breed of creature: clowns. They move differently, sound differently, feel differently, tell stories differently, and in general behave in ways that are simply not seen in real life.

As theatregoers, we generally put a high value on the illusion of “reality.” We expect actors to behave “just like real life,” to “hold the mirror up to nature.” This understanding of theatre reaches its height with “realism,” and in spite of many variations (musicals, theatre of the absurd, physical theatre, dance theatre, Brechtian theatre, stylized theatre, in-yer-face theatre, and on and on and on), we rarely encounter theatre that gets very far from the realistic.

In recent years, actors more and more often receive specialized training in physical theatre and circus skills, especially clowning and acrobatics. And many productions incorporate these skills into performance.

But with “The Supers,” writer (and clown extraordinaire) Sara Moore and director Colin Johnson have carried this tendency to a new extreme. The clowns of “The Supers” communicate entirely in clown language, tumbling, miming, dancing, juggling, playing musical instruments, and producing unheard of vocalizations. It is an amazing exploration of virtuosity in the circus arts, but always in the interest of story telling and authentic emotion.

A difficulty arose, for this viewer, in following the story and making sense of the content. For the first half of the performance, I was occasionally amused but mostly puzzled and somewhat irritated. I had no idea what I was seeing, felt completely alienated from it, and even angry. What was this *$%@?

By the end of the performance I felt that I had seen something totally new, and found myself laughing and crying, deeply moved, although I could not tell you what it was that moved me, or why I found it so touching. Sara Moore, in a helpful program note, refers to a “clown-logic dreamscape”

Well, I’m not sure what that means. All I can really say is: “Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!”

“The Supers” is likely to be the most strikingly original piece of theatre you’ll see this year, and maybe for some time to come.

“The Supers” continues at Z Space through February 29. For further information, click here.

Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“The Supers,” written & produced by Sara Moore. Director: Colin Johnson. Original score and soundscape by Rob Reich. Scenic Design by Katie Whitcraft & Jacqueline Bugler. Lighting Design by Nic Candito. Costume Design by Brooke Jennings. Toby’s Costume Design by Chris Weiland. Animation Sequences by Colin Johnson. Battle Choreography by Joan Howard. Executive Producer: Barry Kendall.

Super: Adam Roy. Jess: Sara “Toby” Moore. Helena: Maureen McVerry. Dopsy: Kalamay Paz Suarez. Edgar: Demarcello Funes. Waldo: Joel Baker. Charlie: Guilhem Milhau.

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