Sunday, June 16, 2013

Circus Girl by Rocky Hopson, Hat Tree Theatricals at the Museum of Human Achievement, June 6 - 16, 2013

alt review
Circus Girl Rocky Hopson Hat Tree Theatricals Austin TX

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

Circus Girl, written by Rocky Hopson, is a coming-of-age play like few others. Set in the 1890s in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains, the play proceeds initially like the adventures of one of many “Little Nells” of the dime novels of that time. If those stories had finished with any of the realism and hard times of that age depicted in this play, very few “Little Nells” would have survived to tell the tale. 'Circus Girl' is the name given to a very young orphan by her circus family; the circus travels, but then settles in Kansas City when the owner buys a theatre for a home base. All dreams are shattered when the Panic of 1893 causes a riotous run on America’s banks. The bank forecloses on the circus’s theatre loan; the performers and owner lose everything, and Circus Girl is cast loose in depressed America with absolutely nothing.
The first point of appreciation of the play is the beauty that's presented on stage against the background of decay. The costumes are at times truly sumptuous and approach period accuracy, at least as far as I could evaluate. The sweetness of many of the characters also provided a sometimes-relieving contrast with the corruption surrounding them. Impressive, too, were the patterns of overwrought oratorical gestures presented in the monologues. These gestural systems were taught formally in that era.
Michelle Keffer Circus Girl Rocky Hopson Hat Tree Theatricals Austin TXDawn Youngs was notable for her adept use of this style in her role as a suffrage reformer and traveling lecturer. Old photographs of the era were projected; particularly enjoyable were the many pictures of the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Early films of circus acts were a treat shown as a pre-show; they were, of course, a couple of decades out-of-period, but who cares.

Setting in the American Midwest of the 1890s and later was a fascinating choice by playwright Rocky Hopson. The period is called the Gilded Age for its optimism and immense growth economically, politically and socially. It was also the nadir of monopolistic capitalism. 

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which we take for granted today, had been enacted in 1890, and its reforms were just taking hold by the time of the Panic of 1893, that giant jolt to the system, as Circus Girl starts. Labor unions were organizing and starting their struggles; Upton Sinclair’s pivotal reform novel The Jungle would not be published until 1906. The gold and silver mines in the Rockies were playing out.

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