Cirque du Soleil, brought to you by American Beauty.
There’s a moment early on in Zarkana where there’s a lady balancing on a ladder balancing on a guy balancing on another ladder balancing on a piano and all we could think was “Good god, we hope they fall.”
Into a big fluffy mattress or something. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt. It’s just that we wanted something, anything, to break up the sterile monotony of Cirque’s relentless professionalism. Because if there’s anything Zarkana is, it’s a distillation of that ethos.
Wait, did we say distillation? We meant “straight up recycling of everything they’ve already done.”
Zark is a Frankenstinian amalgam of Cirque’s previous efforts, wrapped up in a vaguely magic-themed rock opera — if you’re the type who finds your average Trans-Siberian Orchestra show a little too raw and rocking for your delicate tastes.
There’s the two-man clambering over wheels routine (Ka), the trapeze guys (Mystere), the creepy-ass baby (Immortal), the clowns, the clowns, the endless goddamn interstitial clowns (every fucking Cirque show ever). At the end of the day we can’t even be all that mad because this is now the eighth show of theirs in Vegas with a ninth on the way and asses keep on filling seats.
This particular iteration of “incredibly talented acrobats flipping around a surreal landscape” features the main character, Zark, wandering from tableau to tableau singing in the company’s Cirquish. While this doesn’t necessarily make the show more intriguing or mysterious, it does ensure that we’re going to care 1,000 percent less about what’s going on.
Like, if you could take a Pottery Barn and make it into a musical, you’d get Zarkana. Cirque is what it is. The theatrical equivalent of NPR and room-temperature, moderately priced chablis. It’s stage direction for beige. And if we could figure out what it is about that particular combination that sucks so many people off the casino floors and dumps them into giant theaters filled with Seussian-looking organs in stage-side vestibules, maybe we could afford to be shot into space, too.