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Paulanne Simmons

That's Entertainment

Left to Right: Peter Bufano, Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson in "From the Gutter to the Glitter: A Night Out with the Bindlestiffs." Photo by Maike Shulz.

"From the Gutter to the Glitter: A Night Out with the Bindlestiffs"
Directed by Barbara Karger and Michael Preston
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave., between 9th and 10th streets
Feb. 24 through April 2
Fri. and Sat at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 7 p.m.
$15 TheaterMania (212) 352-0255
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 6, 2005

Some people complain all the time about the lack of serious drama, the idiocy of the ubiquitous television situation comedy and the soulless glitz of Broadway. These same people may long for bye gone years when people really cared about serious theater.

Others, like the creators of the Bindlestiff Family Circus, understand that, in America at least, theater and entertainment have always been synonymous. "From the Gutter to the Glitter: a Night Out with the Bindlestiff's" at Theater for the New City calls itself "an intimate guided tour through the dark alleyways of American Popular Entertainment History." And so it is.

The show starts with the Medicine Show Pitch from 1856 and ends with circus Juggling from 2005. In between, one can behold people walking on glass, a dissertation and demonstration pertaining to the art of twirling a top (Mr. Pennygaff's Top Notch Top Act), fire eating, a trapeze act and much, much more.

Clockwise from Top: Keith Nelson, Peter Bufano and Stephanie Monseu in "From the Gutter to the Glitter: A Night Out with the Bindlestiffs." Photo by Maike Shulz.

The acts are performed by Mr. Pennygaff (the remarkable Keith Nelson) and Philomena Bindlestiff (the extraordinary Stephanie Monseu), who are accompanied by Peter Bufano on piano (he occasionally assists on stage too), Kathe Hostetter on fiddle and Keith Nelson on sousaphone.

Although this very unique circus might have at any moment descended into chaotic acts cobbled together, Nelson, Monseu and Bufano's cohesive script and Barbara Karger and Michael Preston's able direction help keep the show on track.

From the Gutter to the Glitter at the same celebrates and spoofs lowbrow entertainment in America - circus, sideshows, vaudeville, burlesque, nightclub, television, radio. The acts are all real and to some extent remarkable. But the hype that surrounds them is clearly tongue-in-cheek.

The Bindlestiff's, unlike the original performers they pattern themselves after, do not ask to be believed without question. We're fooling you, they seem to say, but we're doing it with great skill and style.

Who cares if it's not gold? The glitter is enough. [Simmons]

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