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On the Culture Front: Big Apple Rock & Roll Circus and A Small Fire

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The Rock & Roll Circus that took over the Big Apple's tent at Lincoln center last Monday and Tuesday night was heavy on rock and light on circus. Tuesday evening opened with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zimmer and a sparkly chick named Aska playing mellow organ music mixed with electronic sounds and beats - a bizarre opening for a bizarre evening.

Following their set, Acid Betty, a heavily costumed drag queen, took the stage as the MC of the evening to introduce a lovely group of contortionists. These girls were easily the circus highlight, contorting their bodies into wondrous configurations with an effortless grace. They were backed by Saint Motel playing a pleasing, if unmemorable, set.

Next up were a group of guys that resembled the crew from Cool Runnings. They scaled a towering poll with ease and hopped around on each other when they reached the ground. They were amusing enough but would have made more of an impression if they were backed by a live band instead of the piped in tropical music they played.

Lengthy set up times between bands (a norm for rock shows) stretched out the entertainment for several hours, and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti didn't hit the stage until after my friend had to leave.

Before they took the stage, the floor was lifted up by energetic stagehands and a musty, sawdust smell wafted into the air as the circus floor was revealed. White ponies followed, circling around in a majestic stride.

An extended and puzzling set of faux-karaoke and interpretive dance followed on the same dusty floor. Adding to the confusion, the singer looked like a cross between Where's Waldo and David Bowie. It turns out this strange combo was the headliner Ariel Pink (minus Haunted Graffiti). I'd never seen them live, and I guess just assumed they would have a live band. All in all I think maybe I wasn't on the right drugs because the events, while amusing in spurts, never amounted to more than a blur.

Adam Bock has a unique talent of crafting sharply focused dialogue that often drives his plays to thrilling and unexpected places. Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Receptionist a few years back showed him at the top of his game, illustrating the day-today banalities and bureaucracies of evil. A Small Fire unfortunately suffers from a lack of dramatic drive and character development. It focuses on Emily (Michele Pawk), a headstrong contractor who suffers a mysterious and debilitating loss of her senses starting with her sense of smell.

Her daughter (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and doting husband (Reed Birney) are unsure of how to respond, but try in their own way to be there for her and each other as does Emily's construction manager, Billy (Victor Williams), who seems to understand Emily the best. At just 75 minutes, it ends before it really gets going. The final scene is the most compelling, though, and shows that Bock is onto something. I would love to see the next hour of the play.

A Small Fire runs through January 23rd at Playwrights Horizons