JENNIFER FARRAR, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Flouting the age-old parental refrain, "Don't play with your food!" comes a zany Irish production called "Cirque de Legume" which is all about playing with food. Specifically, with root vegetables.
The chewing, spewing and other abuse of leafy produce has been raised to an art form by the hilarious, deliberately awkward duo performing "Cirque de Legume," which opened Sunday night off-Broadway at 59E59 Theaters as part of the yearlong 2011 Imagine Ireland festival. It's an animal-vegetable-maniac circus, laden with slapstick and humor at the expense of a basket of vegetables.
The 55-minute show was created by performers Jaimie Carswell and Nancy Trotter Landry, both professionally-trained clowns, and Pablo Ibarluzea, who directs. Their sad circus decor is one red chair adorned with a yellow star, yet Carswell and Landry cleverly employ ordinary vegetables and impeccable comedic chops to create the impression of a complete amateur circus, featuring performing animals and attempted feats of daring.
In their skilled hands and crazed imaginations, ordinary vegetables are absurdly elevated and then, usually, messily macerated. A head of Romaine lettuce becomes a howling performing dog, while Landry wields a pair of leeks like whips and several long red chili peppers like knives. Minor roles are handled by a magical potato, instrumental cucumbers and an elegant artichoke or two.
Carswell, with a bashful yet sly twinkle in his eye, generally plays the buffoon, especially when he convincingly enacts a dopey, carrot-overstuffed performing horse. Later on, he "hypnotizes" his partner with a dangling beet, and when it goes wrong, she becomes several different animals, not all of them nice.
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Integral to the mostly-gentle humor is the deliberate failure of some routines, as when Landry attempts to perform as "The Seal of Poland," but instead hopelessly entangles herself in the chair.
Long-legged and rubbery-stiff, Landry wears a manic, blue-eyed laser stare like a scary doll, contrasting with Carswell's shambling, easygoing appeal. Behind traditional red clown noses, they both furtively peek at the audience to gauge how they're doing, or stare in nervous defiance while pretending to forget what comes next.
Often working in serious silence during their pseudo-amateurish but well-choreographed antics, they conclude each routine, whether successful or not so much, by clumsily striking a triumphant pose and chiming proudly, "How `bout THAT!"
Many carrots and other plants are harmed during the flailing of this show, but these hapless vegetables have given up their lives and leaves for the greater artistic good of creating laughter. Amy O'Hara's charming costumes give both clowns an added flair of droopy authenticity.
By the time Landry aids an onion in performing an innocent strip-tease, a perfectly good salad may have gone to waste, but the stage is well-composted and the audience much amused. It just may not be possible to look at produce again in a completely benign way after seeing this wonderfully creative circus.
Performing through Oct. 2, "Cirque de Legume" is a must-see, whether you love or hate vegetables.