**** [FOUR STARS]
Timber! Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (Off Broadway). By Cirque Alfonse. Directed by Alain Francoeur. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30min. No intermission. More information and tickets here.
These days it's hard to stand out on the neocircus scene. The genre has evolved and expanded so quickly, finding a fresh hook is like locating a needle in a haystack. But while there's no hay in Timber!, Cirque Alfonse's rollicking lumberjack-styled show, there are plenty of tree trunks, highly dangerous tools such as axes and saws, and backwoods beards that could put any Brooklyn hipster to shame.
A true family affair, the multitasking eight-member company from Québéc includes brother and sister Antoine and Julie Carabinier Lépine, their sexagenarian father, Alain, and his preschool-age grandson in an aww-inducing cameo. The loose story revolves around a day spent working hard in the woods, from sunup to the dinner bell—there are even a few funny sequences in a rickety outhouse (poor grandpa just can't crap in peace).
The skills on display may be conventional but they're executed in thematically inventive ways: Performers juggle axes, balance on trunks, dive through curved saws and spin on a wagon wheel. The effect is heartstopping; it's hard not to worry for their safety (I felt sick to my stomach for about half the night).
Three burly young acrobats, Antoine Carabinier Lépine, Jonathan Casaubon and Francis Roberge, do most of the heavy lifting, especially of each other (their hand-balancing routine is particular impressive, considering none of them are lightweights). Meanwhile, the comely Julie Carabinier Lépine croons David Simard's rousing Québécois folk tunes as the rest of the cast sing backup and accompany her on fiddle, banjo, accordion and saw (naturally). Though the pace starts off slow—a little too much atmosphere and not enough exhibition—the timing improves once the axes start flying a third of the way through. All together, Timber! is an enchanting mélange inspired by cultural and circus traditions, but never constrained by them. They’re an outstanding bunch of cut-ups.—Theater review by Raven Snook