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Flash Review 2, 9-12: Hurry! Hurry!
Zirkus Artists and New Space Will Shock and Amaze!
Waiting for Every Last Drop at 38 nine
(Must be over 18 to read this Flash Review)

By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2002 Faith Pilger

NEW YORK -- It is not often that I am just as excited to review a performance space as the show that will be appearing therein. This was exactly the case this past Saturday, as I headed out to 38 nine, according to its web site "a labyrinth of rooms for creating and presenting art, film, theater, music and performance" in Long Island City, Queens. The production, the Know Nothing Family Zirkus/Zideshow's "Divine Tortures of the Divine Machine," had traveled all the way from New Orleans for, I believe, its first ever New York City appearance; it was only the third production to arrive at 38 nine, which opened its doors this summer.

To say that this was an exciting evening of entertainment would be a vast understatement. It was, in fact, an epic journey, a virtual wet dream for anyone nostalgic for the bygone era of Andy Warhol's Factory and looking for the real potential of NYC. (Typically for 2002, the potential of NYC lies in the quiet outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.) 38 nine and the Zirkus itself experienced "technical difficulties" throughout the evening, but I think this was to be expected from such ambitious presenters, still making their way through the teething period. Was the audience as understanding? It seems to me that the visiting company could not have had a kinder, more accommodating, more encouraging group of party-goers (Let's hear it for the kids!) to play with. They were game for anything and stayed until the wee hours of the a.m., enjoying the wide range of entertainment fare, including film, live performance, visual art, food and cocktails.

I will begin at the beginning. As we discovered the space, almost nondescript from the outside, it was recognizable only by an illuminated powerbox displaying a flyer for the Know Nothing Family Zirkus/Zideshow. We proceeded literally into a maze, painted on all walls of the stairway in black and white Keith Haring-esque brushstrokes, a product of the artist who calls himself "Maze" and also shows work in the first gallery, as we pay to enter into the belly of the beast.

38 nine was once a factory that specialized in the production of paint rollers, so it is only fitting that the raw nature of the factory, complete with leftover conveyor belts and pieces of machinery, is complemented by galleries full of bright paintings and rooms for lounging that are SOHO sheik. The entirety of the space includes five partial floors, three galleries, three bars, a cabaret room, a lounge, a screening room and the mainspace, with it's obscenely high ceilings and seating at tables and chairs on the main level as well as around the circular balcony.

In the smaller gallery on the second floor, I met "Maze", scribbling away at a notepad while cracking open peanuts at a Japanese-style table with a group of friends. Among them was Costain, the artist showing his work in this particular gallery. He was a tall, unassuming fellow who seemed to welcome me into the gallery as if it were his own bedroom. His paintings were impressive -- large, colorful montages which seemed influenced by graffiti art and Jackson Pollock, but had a unique way of layering images and abstraction. One sculpture required participation to be fully realized -- you could pour your beer into the gaping mouth of a clay creature and hold a cup beneath his penis as he proceeded to pee. The funny part was in the fact that the peeing process was fairly slow and left you awkwardly waiting for the last few drops to fall.

Past this gallery and through a lounge (decked with a fuzzy furniture in erotically suggestive shapes such as stiletto heels and lips) we finally entered the main space, on floor 2 1/2. The preshow act was satirist Greg Nagan, reading from "The Confessions of St Augustine (the Vatican's Cut)" which, unfortunately (or not?) I could not hear due in part to the technical difficulties, which had already begun. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be the "intimate magic" mentioned in the e-vite, or if an additional act was canceled. In any case, the preshow finally began at 11:45. Videos on a large hanging screen and pumping music throughout the multitude of rooms was meant to entertain before the Zirkus, which had been delayed from it's original 10 p.m. showtime, but the volume was much too high for the intimate size of the crowd and ended up being slightly annoying.

At midnight, the main show began. I had already been at the space for so long that I was debating whether to get a bite to eat from the upstairs bar (serving vegan burritos, rice bowls and brownies -- what a combination!). I opted for another beer instead. This was a wise decision, as it was helpful to be well lubricated when I was pulled up onto the stage to aid in the straightjacket act not long after the Zideshow began.

The Know Nothing Family Zirkus/Zideshow likes to call its show "The greatest evening you will ever spend in Hell," and I couldn't help but think that, due to the technical problems they seemed to be plagued with, this was in fact an evening in hell for the performers. However, it was only mildly disappointing for the audience, including myself, who typically did not notice the sound problems until they were pointed out to us by the performers. That said, the show, particularly the second half, was very entertaining and had moments that were genuinely shocking, miraculous and quite original.

This was a classic 10-in-1 Circus/sideshow act, which was explained to us by our host, the charming and animated Dr. Eric von Know Nothing, a.k.a. The Enigexclamation. The latter title was marked upon his face with an "!?" and also tattooed onto his back. So, we paid one price for 10 acts, starring the kooky Know Nothing Family: Dr. Eric and his sister, Starfish, as well as Micki Luv (The Runaway Rockstar) and Flag Blashpoint (The Mad Monk.) These acts included fire manipulation by the sensual Micki Luv, who moved with an unusually quiet grace while fire eating and twirling flaming batons (apparently the only female American to use batons burning at both ends!!). Luv's truly awesome talent, however, was her ability to manipulate and multiply electrical currents. She caused sparks to fly, lit a 120 watt light bulb (in between her legs) and even blew the entire sound system (Good riddance!). I have to admit that I am a tough audience to impress -- I am a skeptic and expect only true miracles, really shocking feats, or awesome beauty. I was truly satisfied on all accounts by Ms. Luv.

Our kooky MC, Dr. Eric, was equally striking. A talented and experienced barker, Dr. Eric escaped from a straightjacket (Hey, I strapped him in there real tight, baby!), introduced his talented and adorable trained canine, and bantered with his usually silent but charming sister/sidekick, Starfish. His main act came late in the show when he laid down freshly broken glass on top of which he walked, lounged and finally laid his face, as a 200-something pound man stood on top of his head. Now, that is an act you don't see on the streets of NYC!

If you are not 18 years or older, PLEASE do not read past this point! Or, as Dr. Eric suggested during the show -- don't tell your PARENTS about what you read past this point! Flag Blashpoint, whose violent entrance in a motorcycle helmet was a fitting start to the show, mostly provided the back-seat entertainment. A composer, musician (and the performer with the best name!), he provided a soundtrack for the evening on keyboard and drums. However, the final act of the show was performed by the very same Mad Monk, half-man (he has one small breast), pinhead, and mother fakir. He played upon a 7-foot bed of nails, walking on it and laying down on it, even as a watermelon was sliced open by a sword while it rested on his belly -- and all of this while completely naked! As if that were not enough, Mad Monk curled himself up into a yogic position, still laying upon the bed of nails, and (I found this weirdly sexy) he sucked his own penis. This was a miracle unto itself and a real expression of the boundless territories to be explored by the sideshow medium.

Typically, a sideshow promises but does not necessarily deliver true miracles. This one does. The performers/sideshow freaks were all truly talented and loveable. The show itself covers the gamut. And, even under less than ideal circumstances, the Know Nothing Zirkus prevailed! I feel the urge to mention also, though it was not the main focus of my interest, that short films were on view in the screening room a few times over the course of the evening, while in the main "skylight" gallery there was a group show which included various and diverse artists. The one who really peaked my interest was Bill Miller, who used remnants of discarded linoleum flooring to create three dimensional surfaces on which he painted layered landscapes and portraits. These were strikingly original and appealingly tactile.

38 nine was created by four partners, one of whom is Stuart Levy, who is losing (or has lost) his lease in Williamsburg of a loft space he had transformed into a theater. It appears that the goal is to present art and performance, as well as providing a fertile environment for the creation of new work. I spoke to another partner who suggested that the venue will expand and also include dance. It has already offered aerial dance. Coming up next: The Costume Balls on Friday and Saturday, October 25 and 26. I should mention that the 38 nine web site (included at the top of this review) is quite minimal, a brand new site with just the basics, but definitely worth browsing to join the mailing list for future events. Much more extensive is the web site for the Zirkus, which is well worth checking out, and which includes upcoming tour dates.

Faith Pilger is a graduate of the Juilliard School and a past winner of the Princess Grace Award for Modern Dance. She curates, hosts and performs in the Vim Variety Show at Surf Reality on the first Friday of each month (this Fall: September 6, October 4, November 1, and December 6th). She appeared this summer in New Orleans with PerksDanceMusicTheatre and premiered her own work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2002, Scotland. Visit her web site by clicking here.

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