THEATRE: STROMBOLLI’S MEDICINE SHOW

THEATRE: STROMBOLLI’S MEDICINE SHOW

It has taken me a long time to embark on writing this review of “Strombolli’s Medicine Show” as performed this weekend at In the Heart of the Beast Mask and Puppet Theater in Minneapolis. I can’t tell if it is general procrastination, not knowing exactly what to write about, or the sinking suspicion that maybe I “just didn’t get it.” In all honesty, it is probably a combination of all three. I have a hard time evaluating art (in the broadest sense of the word) in any way that makes my opinion seem anything but merely that—my opinion.

Part of what is making this review so hard is that I’m honestly not sure how I felt about the show. Not a “Minnesota Nice” I’m not sure, but an honest to goodness, I’m just not sure. Before I continue to ramble about opinion in general, let me literally set the scene.

“Strombolli’s Medicine Show” starts with low lights coming up on a stage cluttered with all manner of bottles, feathers, trinkets and two tall driftwood trees flanking a walkway that extends from the stage to the back of the theater. A crazy-haired man is pacing on the stage and after several minutes of his pacing the audience becomes aware of a rattling behind them. From the back of the theater, over the walkway, trundles a caravan replete with all manner of circus-type peoples.

For about the first half hour of the show there is little to no dialogue. Members of Strombolli’s Medicine Show interact with each other through grunts and gestures while seeming to clean up and set up the area around them—the first real words spoken come as a magnificent relief. The plot revolves around a troupe of performers who are are a part of a travelling show led by Strombolli. The catch is that the show has been travelling for over a thousand years and that the troupe, and Strombolli himself, have been kept alive by an elixir, which is finally running out. The show we witness appears to be the ultimate one.

Strombolli’s show within the show is an odd combination of circus tricks: juggling and contortion, strange audience interactions and an ample amount of burlesque. Time flies by once the show within the show starts, as one interesting act follows the next. Entertaining commentary by two harpies, each one perched in one of the trees, also breaks down the length of the show into engaging, humorous and manageable bits.

The show, and the show within the show, both begin to wind down as the effects of the elixir begin to wear off. It was by this point, after spending about two hours with these characters, that I found the show most moving and thought provoking. Faced with the knowledge of his imminent demise, Strombolli begins to lose his composure and the audience also beings to feel his panic. The close of the performance seemed to hold a larger message focusing on the unavoidable end. Then again, I could have been looking for meaning after fruitlessly searching for one for the past two hours.

That said, the lack of conclusions I could draw from the performance was not only refreshing but also entertaining. The piece as a whole was both visually and emotionally stimulating and though I do not think I possess the skill to clearly nor concisely articulate what I liked about the show, I did enjoy myself. Small fleeting details, words and gestures stay in my mind from the show and maybe the whole point of the show was to create something moving from a hodgepodge of characters and props.