writers on dancing


"From the Gutter to the Glitter":
A Night Out with the Bindlestiffs

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
Theater for the New City,
New York
Friday, March 19, 2005

by Tom Phillips
copyright ©2005 by Tom Phillips

Circus is not just for kids any more, and that’s especially true of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, whose “neo-vaudeville” production is laced with sleazy jokes and mild sado-masochistic references. This tiny downtown troupe took a run at 42nd Street recently, part of a city scheme to revive the old vaudeville and burlesque tradition of Times Square. Now they’re back on the lower east side with a new production, “From the Gutter to the Glitter.” (And back, it seems.)

Lovers of legitimate theatre will not find much to admire here, but it’s frankly billed as “illegitamate theatre,” (sic) and it does have one thing going for it: an elegant tattooed lady, Stephanie Monseu, (a.k.a. Philomena Bindlestiff) who seems willing to do just about anything to entertain you. She sings, she dances, she juggles, she cracks a whip, eats fire, dangles from a trapeze, swallows partially-inflated balloons and pulls them out of her nose, and strips down to her black underwear to lie face-down on broken glass. She may not do any of these things that well, but she keeps you watching, partly just to see if there’s anything she won’t do, and partly because of her bright and winning smile, which adds an odd touch of innocence to an act that seems steeped in corruption. It’s a family circus after all.

Her partner, Keith Nelson, is somewhat grating as the emcee, but his sword-swallowing act is eye-popping. He delivers on his promise to tickle the bottom of his belly with assorted shivs and scimitars, and for a finale downs a two-foot neon tube.

The Theater for the New City has a bar, and the audience is encouraged to drink during the performance, which probably helps. Still, I wouldn’t recommend volunteering for the no-hands beer-swilling contest that is also part of the show. It ended with two puddles on the floor, which were sopped up with paper towels by a frenzied stagehand.

Volume 3, No. 12
March 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 Tom Phillips


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last updated on March 21, 2005