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Theater Review: Cirque du Soleil's latest Cabinet of Curiosities

A steampunk delight

James Eulises Gonzales stars as the Aviator in Cirque du Soleil’s "Kurios." Photo credit: © Martin Girard

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A quick search of my computer reveals the word delightful appears in 10 of my theater reviews prior to this one. I've overused it, I suppose. It's an affected, even poncey word, but I need it again to describe Cirque du Soleil's traveling tent show, Kurios. Here's why: I was seated next to a girl named Andy, for Andrea. Braided hair, rosy cheeks, a gap between her front teeth - we're talking Pixar's Platonic ideal of a 6-year-old girl. Before Act I began, as VIPs were seated and a fussy 19th-century inventor, the Seeker (Anton Valen), interacted with his robot assistants (the Kurios of the title), little Andy was enraptured. She understood each detail of Stéphane Roy's Verne-inspired set and applauded every act with a full-throated howl and her minuscule fist in the air.

I don't know when I've had a better time in a theater.

Kurios breaks from Cirque's established, organic aesthetic to spin a steampunk fantasy of Méliès creatures and clockwork mechanical marvels. Written and directed by Michel Laprise, the story recasts familiar big-top acts as discoveries of our collective imagination. It's fresh and wondrous and riveting in flawless detail. In each Cirque show I've seen, there's at least one act that engenders pure awe. In Kurios, it begins as a hand balancer stages a séance, stacking chairs higher and higher in an act we've seen and marveled at before. Then this necromancer realizes he's conjured a parallel vision of the scene, except suspended upside-down from the rig overhead. What happens next makes a mockery of gravity. Lap, meet jaw.

Sandwiching "Upside Down World" are a quartet of eely contortionists, costumed beautifully by Philippe Guillotel and choreographed by a team of specialists, and "Rola Bola," in which an Aviator (James Eulises Gonzalez) performs sphincter-clamping feats of superhuman balance and concentration. I'm glossing over so much here. You deserve the same experience I had, in which each beat was a surprise and two hours hurtled by in a dream.

This show includes a pair of sketches by clown/mime David-Alexandre Després, the first a kind of oversized flea circus, the second an interaction with a lucky (?) theatergoer. By rights, they should've played as filler while backstage contraptions were deployed. But as I watched Després through little Andy's eyes, I saw, not merely an actor in full control of his audience and instrument, but a font of pure delights. I've seen people on MDMA who weren't as wide-eyed and happy as that girl. In the middle of "Acro Net," the Act II opener, she turned to clutch her associate's blouse. "This is awesome, momma!" she exclaimed, and she was right.

From a critical standpoint, Kurios is a stellar achievement and a guaranteed win for your entertainment dollar. As the guy who was sitting next to Andy, it's delightful. There's no better way to express it.

KURIOS: CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, 8 p.m. through March 22, Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway NE, Redmond, $35-$156, 877.924.7783

(Note: this will be my last stage review for a while, as I've decided to lower my stress level by indulging in an open-ended sabbatical from theater criticism. You stay classy, San Diego!)

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