8 Bit Circus Sh*t’s two acts are almost as different as fire and ice. Both are video game-inspired displays of fire circus tricks, but vary greatly in excitement and accessibility.
Act I takes its video game inspiration loosely and draws just as much from wrestling. Eight quirky warriors compete in the 2017 Pyro Fighters Championship, an original take on Mortal Kombat and other fighting games.
Half the show’s program is dedicated to biographies of the fictional fighters. That space is put to good use; when the fighters first come out, we’ve already become rabid fans ready to cheer our champion of choice.
Geoffrey Baskir, dressed something between a ringleader and an NES controller, emcees the championship. In classic video game fashion, the audience gets to select their characters, choosing who to pit against who for the first round of combat. Here, that fan loyalty instilled by the program really pays off.
All the contestants are skilled, though some are especially inspired in their costumes and weapons. Cole Turpie plays Happy, a cross between the Joker and a Mario shy guy, wielding a multi-pronged spear with fire on each tip. His maniacal laughter and the wide arcs of his signature weapon easily won us over. Dani Swidrack lost some goodwill by playing Madam Ethereal, champion of order over chaos. Not the right crowd for order over chaos. But absolutely the right crowd to root for her flaming baseball bat (More than half her size, especially when the fire climbed high!).
8 Bit Circus Sh*t
closes July 22, 2017
Choosing which fight to watch means a lot of missed content each night, as each fight eliminates someone who could have fought with any other. It would be tempting to return for another show to see a different combination, like with New Game Theatre’s Play Cupid at last year’s Capital Fringe, but 8 Bit Circus Sh*t lacks a lot of that predecessor’s polish. Baskir’s narration only just manages to be heard across the open air amphitheater. When the fighters start improvising banter, it hardly makes it to the nearest audience members, even when they aren’t talking over each other.
And there is a real element of danger here. On opening night, at least one fight ended with an unplanned tumble, still burning weapons and luckily unburnt actors clattering to the ground. Another moment, a weapon was flung mid-combat from across the stage to within a couple feet of the audience before a stagehand could scoop it up and extinguish it.
Fire trick shows need to walk a very thin line of exciting danger and impressive control. If Act I is worringly haphazard, Act II is underwhelmingly restrained. It is more a traditional circus show, performers demonstrating their skills in well-rehearsed scenes at a cautious pace. On opening night, not even literal fireworks being set off by some kids half a block away got the performers to twitch.
Moments of Act II are impressive, despite the audience being spoiled by the more violent first half. Turpie and Alexander Nicoleau’s fire-breathing fills the amphitheater with light and wide-eyes. Danni Baer, Leah Faerielle, and Kyle Rasmussen broke up the fire with aerial acrobatics.
However, too much of the second half feels like a ponderous half-speed run of the first.
Whereas the first half went broad with its video game inspiration, Act II zooms in on Konami’s 1999 horror game Silent Hill. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Iman Bowman, Gabriella Zerla, and Maddie Sharp as faceless nurses with fractured, jerky movements even as they swing fire at each other will still have the desired disturbing effect, but cameos by Pyramid Head or the exact dynamic of Sharon versus Alessa will go way over your head. Just as Act I benefitted from incorporating wrestling, Act II could have used an opera’s synopsis in the program.
Fans of Silent Hill should find enough homage paid to the game to keep their interest, even when the second half drags. Anyone should enjoy 8 Bit Circus Sh*t’s first half, just as long as no one gets injured.
8 Bit Circus Sh*t. Directed by Kyle Rasmussen and Sam Stevens. Performed by Cole Turpie, Corie Fisher, Danni Baer, Dani Swidrack, Iman Bowman, Gabriella Zerla, Geoffrey Baskir, James Small, Kyle Rasmussen, Leah Faerielle, Maddie Sharp, Sam Stevens, Sean Gee. Music by Subatomica, Mr. Jenkins, Soohan, and Dubvirus. Stunt and fight training by Dave Nghiem. Stage combat training by Danny Pushkin and Matt Clark. Produced by Peculiarity Productions. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.