The latest, more "toned down" version of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus shows this bawdy troupe frolicking onstage at a high level.
Bindlestiff is neither a family nor a circus (not really). The brainchild of Keith Nelson and emcee-dominatrix Stephanie Monseu, it is a collaboration of unrelated performers who present circuslike gags, burlesque routines, and other sorts of bits in a smallish space. There is the androgynous bearded lady called Jennifer Miller, who easily manages a straightjacket escape routine a la Houdini. There are the Slapinski Brothers (Adam Kuchler and Matthew Morgan), whose overzealous preshow bag "inspection" sets the tone for a mischievously invasive evening. One of the Slapinskis also sets up a kissing booth, in which he waits for an audience member to pay $20 to kiss him (someone eventually did, albeit for a reduced fee; the Bindlestiffs didn't appear to give the money back). Nelson himself is quite the sword swallower, able to stick some very long pieces of weaponry down his obviously flexible throat. And Monseu is able to use her whip to deflower a faraway rose, the complicating factor being that the stem is lodged between an audience member's legs.
The success of the evening, and it is a success, lies in the tongue-in-cheek, half-insane tone of it all. With a marked polish that comes from a lot of underlying attention by directors Barbara Karger and Michael Preston, the Bindlestiffs present irony piled atop irony, with a bit of underlying menace and lewdness to make everyone edgy. Comparisons to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, the Open Theater, and even Pinter come to mind.
The evening would not work nearly as well without the talents of the "Orkestra" (Raja Azar, Tim Hoey, and Peter Bufano), which plays music to the various acts with a spirited, humorous appeal. What a refreshing rejoinder to the fatuous, irritating music of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus they are.