Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

The Pilo Family Circus
By: Joel Benjamin
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Nick Paglinoas Jamie/JJ the Clown and Gregory
Konow as Kurt Pilo in a scene from The Pilo
Family Circus
(Photo credit: Sean Dooley)

Adapted by Matt Pelfrey from Will Elliott’s horror novel, the Godlight Theatre Company’s production of The Pilo Family Circus is a frightening parable. According to this play, all the evils of the world have their source in an underground crime organization. No, not the mob, but an oily, old-fashioned circus run by Kurt Pilo who fashions himself, literally, as the high priest of iniquity. Pilo is narrated by Jamie, a directionless twenty-something who thinks he is going out of what is left of his mind when he witnesses several clowns running around a darkened city street. He is abducted, becoming a new acolyte serving the pleasure of Kurt and his minions.

As Jamie acclimates himself to the hierarchy and rules of The Circus, he realizes just how powerful his new companions are and how they are responsible for fires, kidnappings, violence and other mayhem. However, he is seduced by a mysterious white powder that causes him to turn into a Jekyll and Hyde, his Hyde being JJ the Clown. This powder becomes a bone of contention later in the play. JJ comes to his senses when he is forced to become involved in the burning of a building and helps stage a rebellion that shakes up the status quo. From the moment Jamie/JJ sets foot in the Circus he detects discord and, aided by another wavering clown, Winston, he steals the white powder stash leading directly to a huge battle involving all the characters.

Kurt Pilo rules the roost atop stilts, dressed as a Catholic priest, using a large cross as a cane. There are three acrobats—Sven, Svetlana and Randolph—who slither about, finally siding with Jamie and a bunch of clowns led by Gonko, including Rufshod, Doopy and Goshy all with distinct personalities and duties. Roger the Accountant, a marionette, is a pessimistic advisor to Kurt. There are a fishboy, acrobats and other circus habitués, creating an off-kilter, imaginatively conceived world that rings bizarrely true because of the richness of the vision.

Members of the cast of The Pilo Family Circus
(Photo credit: Sean Dooley)

The dialogue is earthy and profane, not always stylishly delivered, but effective nonetheless. Matt Pelfrey has captured the mood and the rhythm of these people making them all too human.

The set is just the oddly shaped playing area of the New Ohio Theatre with a few strings of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Orli Nativ’s costumes, aided by masks by Brendan Tay and the Puppet Kitchen, certainly create the demonic circus atmosphere with full-blooded zest. Maruti Evans’ lighting keeps the mood and place changes clear, but the fog machine might be toned down a few notches.

The acting was dedicated and energetic but not consistent. Nick Paglino as Jamie/JJ holds the show together with his gritty performance. As his slacker roommate Steve and Sven the Acrobat, Craig Peterson proves his versatility. Gregory Konow has the double whammy of being dressed like a priest and having to perform on stilts. He is an imposing presence. Michael Tranzilli is a tad mild mannered as Winston, but is earnest. As George Pilo and a number of others, Brett Glass shows his ability to change characters quickly and effectively. Lawrence Jansen is Gonko the lead clown. He has a sense of wit about him and never bogs down in the evil he has to play. The rest of the cast include Chris Cipriano, Jarrod Zayas, Michael Shimkin, Dre Davis and Jenny Stulberg.

The Pilo Family Circus (through February 23rd, 2013)
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets, in Manhattan
Tickets: call 212-675-6446 or 212-868-4444 or visit http://www.SmartTix.com
More Information: http://www.godlighttheatrecompany.org

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