Friday, June 11, 2010

Theater Review: Cirque du Soleil's 'Banana Shpeel'

The Banana Shpeel ensemble. Photos: Jean-François Gratton
This Cirque Show Peels a Bit Differently
By Lauren Yarger
If you’re a fan of the old TV show “Taxi,” you’ll probably get a kick out of a couple of the characters in Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, Banana Shpeel, playing Off-Broadway at the newly refurbished Beacon Theater. If you’re a fan of the Canada-based presentations that are usually a dream-like blend of music, costumes and circus feats, this journey off the beaten path into the world of Vaudeville (well, Vaudeville-like would be a better description) might not be what you’re expecting.

Danny Rutigliano (above), looking like a sparkly green leprechaun in Dominique Lumieux’ costume and sounding like Danny DeVito, channels the character of Louie from Taxi into Marty Shmelky, who runs a sort of Vaudeville show with the help of some clowns (Claude Carneiro, Patrick de Valette, Shereen Hickman, Daniel Passer, Gordon white and Wayne Wilson) and introduces each of the acts. (One of the clowns sounds and looks a lot like Rev. Jim from Taxi too.)

The acts aren’t really vaudeville numbers, but traditional cirque offerings with some non-traditional tap dancing numbers featuring Joseph and Josette C. Wiggans with choreography by Jared Grimes. There also are contortionists (Tsybenova Ayagma, Tsydendambaeva Imin and Zhambalova Lilia), a foot juggler (Vanessa Alvarez) and a hand-balancing act (Dimitri Bulkin) that’s truly artistic and gravity-defying. You also can expect the traditional interaction with audience members.

What’s rather unexpected and unfortunate is the frequent use of sexually charged dialogue, language and the use of God’s name in vain, all of which give pause about the appropriateness of the show for little ones (say age 10 and under). It’s all unnecessary in what otherwise would be a fun and entertaining program from Director of Creation Serge Roy and writer David Shiner, who also directs.

Banana Shpeel runs through June 27 (closing earlier than had been announced) at the Beacon, 2124 Broadway
(between 74th & 75th streets). For tickets call 212-465-6500.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Male clown dresses in woman’s costume
• Teachings of Buddha are referred to

Additional note: The overzealous staff at the Beacon will require a photo ID for you to pick up your tickets at the box office and will search your bags and require you to throw out any food or drink you might have with you when entering the theater.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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