DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Just off Spring Street, not far from City Hall, there are decadent and sexually charged forces on the loose, ready to satisfy Downtown’s most perverse instincts. But enough about Lu Parker’s website photos.
Actually, these forces are even steamier. And they serve alcohol.
Step inside, ladies and gentlemen (and ill-mannered dwarves), we have a new circus in town! Coincidentally, what better place for the mayor and his new journalist friend to unwind after a rough day of not running for governor (him) and no longer reporting on politics (her)? Perhaps these two might even get in the act. He could twirl on the high wire while she waits below, in a sequined mini, casually eating fire.
Not that it’s my concern, but how does a prominent guy like this make time with a string of fetching local television journalists and consistently bypass that spitfire Jillian Reynolds? (I don’t mean to imply the mayor has a thing for local TV talent, but it’s gotten to the point where Fritz Coleman’s blocking all calls from the 213.)
Not to worry. Turns out the circus in question, known as Cirque Berzerk, has nothing to do with City Hall (or as it might soon be called, Parker Center). The adults-only-please show takes place about a mile up the street, at the otherwise family-friendly Cornfield (aka the Los Angeles State Historic Park), a space that could soon turn into just plain historic thanks to our current budget woes. Performances run through July 26, but I wish they could keep it there permanently. That way, Los Angeles would be the only California city with a full-time Downtown circus.
Cirque organizers are right about leaving the children at home. In fact, after catching a recent 10 p.m. performance, I’m not quite sure home is far enough away from Downtown’s new freak emporium. Standard kid-friendly circus fare like jugglers and elephants have given way to moments of lust, death, fire, and the always people-pleasing evil.
This place is one part Barnum and three parts bourbon.
No doubt, Bailey would have bailed.
Cirque Berzerk has found the perfect spot. Sometimes, the best L.A. destinations don’t feel like L.A. at all. Absent the impressive skyline, Cirque’s setting feels more “open desert” than Downtown. It’s off both the beaten path and the urban grid.
Audience members roam freely outside the circus big top before the nighttime performances. There is also a smaller, adjacent tent under which you’ll find some of what has made our city great for more than two centuries: food, beer, shopping and free vintage pinball. There’s live music and dancing too, but one never knows when terrifying things might step out of the darkness. And those jarring, periodic bursts of bright orange flames, a nod to Cirque Berzerk’s roots in the Burning Man arts festival, give the impression we’re on the edge of chaos.
Sort of like a Lakers post-game celebration, minus the overturned cars.
It’s a rousing pre-party, this little tent, one last ray of good cheer before the night turns sinister. The flames are shooting even higher now, signaling one thing: Showtime.
Clinging to my seat inside the main tent next door, I’m suddenly 15 feet away from an ax-wielding man on stilts eyeing an innocent young woman. She, in the most fetching red dress, has seemingly plunged into the gates of, if not hell, then hell-adjacent. He’s wearing a black dunce cap and offers her a prophetic warning: “This is no place,” he says, “for a girl with such exquisite taste.”
The lights dim. Our story begins. Cirque Berzerk’s actually a two-act mini-musical entitled Beneath, loosely centered around this woman who finds herself on death’s door — literally. Once there, she’s faced with a variety of shady characters, many of whom could have stepped out of any number of David Lynch films. They include a passive-aggressive clown who pulls hats out of rabbits, a dwarf with an attitude problem and several ominous high-flying performers coaxing her to experience all that the Underworld has to offer.
The show opens with our heroine engaged in a tightly choreographed funeral dance, her introduction to the afterlife. She’ll soon wind up in an eerie nightclub (death is a cabaret too, apparently) and watch, along with the rest of us, the acrobatic fireworks to come. Act 1 builds to a vibrant close, with four men unleashing a flawlessly precise, gravity-teasing trampoline spectacle that sort of mimics an old silent film being run forwards and backwards in quick succession. These guys can jump off a 10-foot-high wall, and back on, in one fluid motion.
The obvious message here: Why fear crossing over to the dark side when it’s filled with young, attractive, talented, and above all, incredibly limber people who evidently have year-round memberships at L.A. Fitness?
Through it all, a small, powerful and very much alive band, located on a platform above the stage, bangs out Cirque Berzerk’s perfect soundtrack complete with thrilling mood music and stellar vocals.
“She fell in your world,” we’re told near the end, “and rises in ours.” Don’t dismay. This recently deceased woman in the red dress has made a lot of friends here. She’ll do quite well.
Hold on, a new character approaches. Another limber, very good-looking man with a sparkle in his eye. She’s intrigued.
Good luck with him, little missy. But for your sake, let’s hope eternal damnation doesn’t have any local news.
page 13, 06/29/2009
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