Family Circus Laughter League’s delightful The Petite Palace is a family affair

Every circus is like a family, even if members are not related. In Petite Palace, head clowns Dick Monday and Tiffany Riley of the Laughter League are the parents who confound and embarrass the children. Ievgeniia Pokrovska Lok is the daffy younger daughter whose gleeful zaniness lights up the room. Juggler Dario Vasquez is the older brother trying earnestly to nab attention back. Skipp Gladstone (magician Mike Williams in total nerd attire) is the weird uncle who plays tricks on the kids. As the family friend from out of town, Mark Gindick and his antics make everything memorable.

Photo: Lennie Duensing. Slappy and Monday Ballet Duo

But that’s not the plot of this fall’s Petite Palace. That would be a fractured fairy tale about a philandering king (Monday), his put upon wife/servant (Slappy), their comely daughter (Kelli Ramazini) and her suitors — Julio Ramazini and Robert Lok — who vie for her hand in marriage through display circus skills.  Alas the plot, strong at first, wanders away by the second half.

A few acts stand out from the familial pack. Glen Foster, whose burlesque name is Emma D’Lemma, does a sensual slow burn on the corde lisse, sliding, rolling and spinning along an aerial rope in mesmerizing emotional oneness. Robert Lok is superb with a diabolo — a blocky hourglass-shaped top tossed and manipulated with a string stretched between two sticks. Most diabolo artists are so serious, but with Lok it served as a seamless and thrilling extension of his slapstick. Riley’s skill with manipulated soap bubbles with her hands is wonder personified.

But it’s Gindick who silly-walks away with the show. He boasts the pathos, vulnerability and intelligence of Charlie Chaplin merged with the loose-limbed comic physicality of Bill Irwin. Well beyond slapstick, he is embodied humor. On stage or off, it’s impossible to avert your eyes from him. At one point he becomes a bagpipe that another performer inflates and plays. Unforgettable.

Petite Palace shows are always super friendly and fun, full of gaffs that they merrily recover from. While several of last year’s shows were flooded out, this year the small red-and-white tent is pitched in a well-drained location. Go early and catch the Center’s famed Dia de los Muertos art exhibit and a sunset saunter by White Rock Lake. 

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