Big Apple Circus | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Big Apple Circus



Big Apple Circus

Founded 20 years ago by a pair of former street jugglers, the Big Apple Circus combines the artiness of Cirque du Soleil with the good old Barnum & Bailey-ness of more traditional American circuses yet never stumbles into Cirque du Soleil's Eurotrashiness or Ringling Brothers' elephantine love of bigness for its own sake (three rings of chaos for your entertainment pleasure!). Instead this unpretentious one-ring show delivers expert tumblers, jugglers, clowns, aerialists, and even an elephant or three wrapped in just enough hokum--including a top-hatted ringmaster--to satisfy circus purists. What makes the Big Apple Circus extraordinary is how close to the action everyone is. Even the farthest seat is only 50 feet back, while people in the front rows are so close they could reach out and touch the trained elephants or the beautiful, plumed horses. This proximity can be frightening. Last year I couldn't shake the feeling that if the pachyderm happily barreling around the ring, its long, runny nose extended like an arm groping in the dark, happened to stumble, those of us in the first row were doomed. Such a context gives acts that are only mildly interesting in larger venues--such as Arturo Alegria's juggling--greater power. And strong acts--like Barry Lubin's brilliant, Chaplinesque clowning as Grandma--just soar in Big Apple's intimate space. Arlington International Racecourse, Euclid and Wilke (enter on Euclid), Arlington Heights, 312-902-1500. Opening performances Saturday, June 6, 1 and 5 PM. Through June 14: Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays-Sundays, 1 and 5 PM. $10-$32.

--Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Patricia Lanza.

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