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Life’s the circus at 1515 Broadway

By |2006-09-14T09:00:00-04:00September 14th, 2006|Entertainment|

This week in Curtain Calls ONLINE at “Howl” in Flint, “The Rat Pack” returns, plus all the latest theater news.



Staged by Satori Circus at 1515 Broadway, Detroit. Sept. 14-17 & 21-23 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $10/advance, $15/at door. For reservations and information: 313-965-1515.

With a name like Satori Circus, one might expect to find a carnival barker stationed in front of Detroit’s 1515 Broadway inviting or cajoling everyone in sight to step right up for the next amazing act.

Instead, upon entering the theater you’ll find a lone, sad-faced clown sitting at a table seemingly weighed down by the problems of the world. His deep, dark thoughts are interrupted only by the occasional drag off a cigarette, a swig of beer and the mournful tunes playing in the background. It’s a quiet, lonely moment witnessed countless times in every neighborhood bar that’s ever existed.

But not in every theater – and not before the show begins.

It’s obvious, then, that there’s certainly no circus at 1515 Broadway – at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, what we’re witnessing is the circus of life itself – and the long-awaited return of celebrated performance artist Russell A. Taylor to the Detroit stage.

Taylor first took Detroit audiences by storm in the early 1990s with his unique approach to narrative storytelling. His shows were an amazing mixture of mime and rock music, simple costumes and multimedia wizardry, but it was his analysis of everyday life that appealed to his legions of fans. Rarely had spoken words been received so well by such a diverse segment of Detroit’s population.

Eventually, Taylor left town – but he was never forgotten. And now, after what he calls a “four-year walkabout,” he’s back with his latest one-man show, “Moses:39.” The show’s title isn’t a biblical reference. Rather, it acknowledges the sudden death of his father, Moses, at the age of 39.

Through poetry and song the author examines his father’s life and the relationship they shared. It’s an honest and occasionally brutal look at an alcoholic whose inner demons never allowed him to reach his potential.

Although such a storyline sounds depressing, Taylor infuses it with much wit and pathos. You can’t help but laugh at the geeky kid in the Coke-bottle eyeglasses armed with a slingshot, yet at the same time, you feel sorry for him. It’s moments like those that prove why Taylor is a master at his craft.

Of several crafts, actually. As a performance artist, Taylor expertly combines several artistic elements to weave his tale. Short, pre-recorded poems introduce most of the 13 scenes, but the story is primarily conveyed through a rock score co-written with Tim Suliman and recorded by Popsicle Shiv. (Taylor’s voice brings back memories of “American Idol’s” Chris Daughtry.) And each scene is “set” through the use of overhead projectors operated by three assistants who create most of the backgrounds with felt markers, paper cutouts and other bits of everyday “stuff.” (The horseback riding and morning pee scenes are awesome!)

Most impressive, however, is Taylor’s use of his body and face. His women are feminine; his children are child-like.

The show’s only flaws are the interminable scene and costume changes – all 12 of them. If there’s no one backstage to help him, there should be, as the long periods of darkness destroy whatever pacing the storyteller tries to build. And it gives the audience far too much time to yawn, check e-mails and send text messages – all of which I saw people doing.

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