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Moscow Cats Theatre
Eric Beckson's review of The Moscow Cats Theater During It's Downtown Run
If you'd like to see a cat doing a handstand on the palm of a man's hand or a cat that jumps twenty feet and lands squarely on a platform the size of a tea tray, there's a show in town for you. It comes all the way from Russia.
Yuri Kuklachev's Moscow Cats Theatre is more of a clown show featuring cats than a cat show with clowns. Either way, it's delightful entertainment geared to children and anyone fanatical about felines.
Accompanied by three clowns, the ever present Kuklachev is an accomplished clown himself as well as chief cat coaxer. He resembles the jovial and somewhat flamboyant Frank Morgan's Professor Marvel and the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. A silent clown, Kuklachev is an excellent mime as well as a humble and gleeful presence.
To provide a very loose framework we have: a rainstorm from which to protect the cats (using small cages on tall poles); a magical artist's studio where three mannequins come alive and entertain; a space alien invasion aimed at kidnapping the cats (which must of course be prevented). There is not too much glitz in any of the sets or the costumes, but it's enough.
Still spry after more than 35 years in the circus (mostly self-employed), Kuklachev joins the other clowns in a variety of physically demanding acts which include riding a giant pogo stick, shimmying hula hoops and dancing of all kinds. Kuklachev even sketches audience members. It's as if anything and everything is appropriate as long as its well done.
It's amusing to see the cats harassing Kuklachev by jumping on him, refusing to stay in a box or in a pot or at the top of a pole, routinely swatting at him and generally disrespecting him (in an obviously trained manner). In a running gag, one particularly independent cat swats at him whenever he approaches.
When the clowns take center stage the fare is familiar, but it will seem new, or at least droll, to young children or anyone new to the circus. At the performance I attended a constant chattering and screeching indicated a general sense of exhilaration among the younger members of the audience. The only moment of silence occurred when Kuklachev sleight of handed a live cat with a stuffed toy cat and then threw the toy look-a-like into the audience (reminding one of the bucket of confetti that replaces the bucket of water). When an audience member tossed the toy back onto the stage, Kuklachev looked sadly down at it and back at the individual as if to say, what a way to treat a cat!
The one dog (a nonchalant Scottie) smartly maintains a low profile by pushing a cat bearing baby carriage across the stage (and other yeoman-like tasks). Passively, it stands on its hind legs for a full minute as Kuklachev dresses it in a ridiculous costume -- which is no more garish than Kuklachevs. As they say in the old country: anything to make a living.
Reviewed September 17th at The Tribeca Performing Arts Center where its initial 10/30/05 closing date was extended to 12/31/06
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