by Michele Valiquette and Steven Hill
Leaky Heaven Circus
600 Campbell Ave.
604-488-0003 or www.festivalboxoffice.com
Leaky Heaven Circus has deservedly developed a loyal following for its charming, off-the-wall theatrical events. Putting highly skilled professional actors, clowns and acrobats together with their real-life kids, a lovable dog, and members of the East Side community in which the company is firmly rooted, Leaky Heaven’s shows are guaranteed all-age funfests.
The scripts tend to be little more than rough scaffolding, Bonobo! more so than previous shows like Ziggurat (based on Greek myth) or Birthday Boy (on the Nativity). All feature the trademark Leaky Heaven ingredients in a free-form circus atmosphere, including plenty of good-natured audience interplay.
Michele Valiquette and director Steven Hill have based their Bonobo! script on American animal behaviourist Susan Savage-Rumbaugh’s research on the bonobo apes of central Africa. Her experiments with one particular bonobo named Kanzi reveal the intelligence and human qualities of this unusually peaceful, loving species whose DNA is 98.4% identical with our own. (Check out the videos on www.iowagreatapes.org.)
Lois Anderson plays Dr. Sue Rhumba in a ‘70s pantsuit, big hair and broad Amurican ayccent. Her research on the bonobos, especially Kanzi and his mother, Matata (extraordinary husband-wife team Colin Heath and Manon Beaudoin), depends on her getting funded by eccentric, skeptical Professor Rotpeter (a drooling Peter Anderson in fright-wig and buck teeth), who has a crush on her.
The story-line has little significance other than a sequence in which Dr. Sue tests the apes’ word-recognition—Kanzi successfully understands and acts on the combination “chase” and “critic.” Peter Anderson does a lot of funny goofy stuff including voicing Mosey the dog, who gets two kids to do stupid human tricks. Lois (no relation) charms the audience as de facto mistress of ceremonies. Little monkeys wander around and white-coated attendants manipulate the apes’ cages with hypnotic choreography to a delightful soundtrack by Ben Rogalsky and two other onstage musicians.
Primarily, the loosey-goosey structure lets Matata and Kanzi do their bonobo thing. Beaudoin shows expressive ape-like body language and nice trapeze work but mostly plays straight-woman to Heath’s Kanzi, the real star.
From the moment he enters, leaps onto Matata’s waist, nibbles at her breast (what looked like a clothespin from my seat), then tries to do the same to Dr. Sue, the audience is just a ripe banana in his simian hands. Former Cirque du Soleil performer Heath is a remarkably dexterous physical actor with a face as expressive as his body. He’ll crack you up with his foot-wide grin then break your heart with a deadpan stare while doing amazing monkey tricks.
For now, Bonobo! is Heath’s Vancouver swan song. He, Beaudoin and family leave for Toronto where he’ll play a hobbit and understudy Gollum in the new Lord of the Rings megamusical. Catch him here while you have the chance.