Talking Story

Friday night the family and some friends went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam. I’d seen other Cirque du Soleil shows, so I knew what to expect. My son Aaron not so much.

“Clowns!” He shuddered as we walked up the steps.

“Yeah. I told you it was a circus.”

“You’ve taken me to the circus. I remember the circus. Lots of red and gold. Elephants. Tigers. Girls in skimpy clothing sparkling on a trapeze.”  He gestured to the posters lining the walls. “Who in their right mind does a clowns-only circus?”

“Not orange wigged with big red noses and floppy shoes,” I said. “More refined. Think Marcel Marceau.”

French clowns,” he glowered.

“French Canadian,” I said. “There’s a difference.”

He sniffed. “There better not be any audience participation. Especially not involving clowns.”

“Uh, probably not,” I said as I spotted a mime stalking a level below us, randomly plucking people from their seats, adjusting a tie, flirting with a pretty girl, rubbing a bald man’s head for luck. “Here,” I said, handing him some cash, “Go get a snack.”

“Aaron still wearing his costume?” my husband Kevin asked as our son slipped down the aisle.

“Yeah. Surly Teenager,” I said, referring back to my response a few days ago when the kids’ piano teacher asked about Aaron’s non-costume at the Halloween recital.

“He really hates clowns,” Kevin mused.

“I noticed.”

“Goes back to the Halloween when he was two and the clown waiter at Olive Garden honked his nose at him. It’s like he has a big neon sign with an arrow over his head and a target on his back. Remember the rodeo clown this summer? Chased Aaron all the way up the bleachers pretending to steal his fries.”

“The audience thought Aaron was joking back,” I said.

“Not me. I saw the terror in his eyes when he realized the clown was following him up the stairs.”

I shrugged. “He might have been playing along.”

Kevin scoffed. “Playing? Try panic. He shrieked like a girl with a spider in her hair and sprinted to the top trailing fries and ketchup.”

“His seat was up there,” I said.

“Jeff was up there. Don’t you remember? Jeff stood up and Aaron cowered behind him.”

I smiled. “That’s what 6’6” uncles are for. Plus it got a big laugh.” I frowned. “Maybe sending him to get a snack wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Clowns. He hates them,” said my husband warming to his topic like a preacher on Sunday. “He’d rather swim with sharks.”

“That can be arranged,” I said.

A little while later Aaron was back in his seat munching on popcorn, the mime was safely backstage, and the house lights dimmed. A spotlight shone on a bored young girl meandering in a living room while her parents read the paper and ignored the thunderstorm outside. A headless giant carrying an enormous umbrella knocked on the door, entered, and handed the girl his hat.

“I don’t get it,” whispered my daughter Cheryl in my ear.

“Shhhhh!” I said. “Just watch.”

The giant left, the girl put the hat on her head, and Cirque du Soleil’s version of  the Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 in tow appeared next, tilting the world sideways. The living room furniture with parents still seated flew to the rafters while a German guy inside a silver ring started spinning center stage.

“What? What’s going on?” Anxiety and confusion rained down as Cheryl practically climbed into my lap.

“It’s all her imagination! Shhhhh! Watch!” I growled.

“She’s got one messed up mind if this is her imagination,” muttered Cheryl, slinking back to her chair.

Cheryl pestered. What was going on, why were all these weird people on stage, and how come the girl’s parents didn’t react to any of it? She wanted to get a handle on the story. An evening at the Cirque is more like a concert than a play. Cheryl’s not mentally wired for a theme thinly disguised as a plot, something that exists to conveniently link all the pieces together as they explore concepts as squishy as imagination and childhood play. She’s my tenacious one, the one least easily distracted, the one who prods what’s on her plate, always wanting chicken to look like chicken and to hold all the sauces, please. Taking my cue from the high-flying parents now sinking out of sight behind the orchestra, I ignored her.

I let the magic happen.

And it did. I watched my kids get drawn into the performances, relaxing and letting their guards down as the colors, sounds, and energy washed over them. They stopped worrying and thinking and began experiencing. Crafted and honed so that the impossible seemed effortless, the acts were splendid, building thrills and laughter throughout the show in stormy rollercoaster waves. It was, quite simply, wonderful.

And Aaron’s favorite part? The scenes with the clowns and audience participation!

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