The Marx Brothers’ best movies didn’t exactly hinge on their plots; as long as they could come up with a reasonable excuse to string together a series of hilarious scenes, it didn’t really matter how we got from one to the other. The same is true of Cirque du Soleil, but instead of laughs they rely on awe. The latest to premiere in Queens, Amaluna, is a vaguely Tempest-like story of an exotic island filled with half-man, half-beast creatures who have a predilection for juggling, backflips, and soaring through the air. Though Shakespeare is clearly the source—”Prospera” and “Romeo” count themselves among the main characters—he is little more than a launching point for staging the production in a tropical paradise.
Now, I am lucky if I can get my pants on in the morning without falling over, so any form of physical coordination will always impress me. Still, there is a decided sag to Amaluna; it just plain doesn’t evoke wonder in the same way the late Marx Brothers movies just aren’t funny—and, like those movies, once you remove the excuse for plotlessness, the plotlessness begins to feel detrimental. Backed by New Age anthems reeking of Enya, this troupe performs the kind of tricks that would be dazzling if seen at a party, in a backyard, or on YouTube, but not in a circus tent. Where are the death defying stunts? Or the moments that make us regress into childlike glee? This is admittedly a tall order—but it is also Cirque du Soleil, a company that should be accused of anything but being boring.
The proceedings are not helped by the appearance of an atrocious clown, the pirate Jeeves (she is listed as a manservant on the website, so it is possible the story fluctuates from show to show). With a pepper-red Dalí mustache and little else to suggest a sense of humor, she convinces an unsuspecting audience member to marry her in an extended, two-part bit that plays like mandatory filler while everyone else is catching their breath backstage.
Perhaps this is a moment where an international reputation can prove a disadvantage; perhaps if Amaluna had been produced by another company it would not be so disappointing. Nevertheless, this show is not up to the standards of these usually first-rate French-Canadian carnies.
Amaluna runs through May 18th at Citi Field. 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue Flushing, NY. 2 hours 20 minutes. One intermission.