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A CurtainUp Review
Maximum Risk

"Imagine what happens when a cowboy, a pretty lady and a gentleman play with ropes and knives…" So state the posters and programs for Maximum Risk. Don't let your imagination race too fast, however, or you'll fly right by this production. There is no knife-on-rope action here, or anything surprisingly creative, but if you enter the theater without expectations, you just may be horrified, shocked, and entertained by this two-hour spectacle that promises to break an obscure world record every night.

Chris McDaniel is our Buffalo Bill cowboy. What starts off as an awkward swagger accompanied by too-scripted talk warms up into a relaxed rapport with the audience. Almost the entire first half hour has McDaniel illustrating and explaining the art of the lasso. The rest of this short first act includes one quick knife throw by Throwdini, a body-bending dance by Ekaterina, and performances by special guests.

The cast then takes an intermission, offering the audience a chance to stop at the basement's watering hole while they set the stage for record-breaking knife throwing. After some semi-entertaining singing and schtick-ing by McDaniel and Ekaterina, we get to the crux of the evening. With our cowboy as M.C., and Ekaterina as the target girl (isn't it ironic that the title "target girl" is given to the exact person the knife thrower wants most to miss?), Throwdini begins to prove himself worthy of his name.

Various sizes and shapes of knives are thrown, and most every time McDaniel and Ekaterina put muscle into removing the metal from the board. They then comment about how this proved that the knives were actually being thrown and not mechanically coming from the back. The reality of what I was watching sunk in on me during a "blind throw," during which Ekaterina, pressed up against the board, reached out and smacked a spot not covered by her body. A blindfolded Throwdini then waited a moment and took aim at this spot. About halfway through this stunt, Ekaterina smacked a spot enthusiastically. Instead of Throwdini propelling a knife, he shook his sack-covered head which caused Ekaterina to re-hit the board crisply (the first time he had not heard the sound direction clearly enough, and he was not risking the throw). This was the show's second most tension filled segment. With the audience completely silent, with mouths agape, they prepared and then executed the evening's world record. On the night I attended they were creating a completely new world record -- to see how many knives Throwdini could throw at Ekaterina in one minute, letting fly three at a time. Apparently on that June 27th night, this new official record was to be 97.

The special guests were the Pontani Sisters, one of those Post-Modern Vaudeville groups who perform regularly around the city. Though their costumes and dances were cute, only two out of three sisters were on the same beat. And frankly, Ekaterina's presence and energy (McDaniel rightly dubs her, "The Sparkle of the show"), not to mention her gorgeous looks or contortionist abilities, make her the most watchable person on stage.

The attempts to make it a more theatrical event came across as amateur and the show could stand to be cut way down in length -- but I can now say I've seen a world champion rhythmic gymnast get 97 knives thrown at her within a minute.

Created By David R. Adamovich and Chris McDaniel
Written by Chris McDaniel and Simon Lovell
Directed by Simon Lovell
Performed by: Chris McDaniel, The Great Throwdini, Ekaterina, and weekly special guests SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (Between 6th Ave and Varick St.) 212.691.1555
From 6/13/05 for an open-ended run; opening 6/27/05
Running time 2 hours, including one 20 minute intermission
Mondays at 8pm, beginning June 13, opening night June 27.
Tickets are $30, $15 students/seniors
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on a June 27, 2005 performance.
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