Star-Bulletin Features

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Gymnastic stunts enliven
‘The Gift’ at Hawaii Theatre

Review by John Berger

Fly they don't, but the young men and women of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus acquit themselves well as entertainers in "The Gift" this weekend at the Hawaii Theatre.

The group -- "Fruities" for short -- present acrobatic and gymnastic routines in the context of a story about a young guy confronted with the daunting task of fitting in when he obviously does not. Not only does the young man appear to be half the age of the others, but he also shows up for school wearing a uniform of short pants, a blazer, necktie and a green school cap (think Angus Young of AC/DC, whose onstage attire was inspired by English and British Commonwealth schools).

The plucky little guy isn't identified -- none of the cast is -- although the program says the character's name is Ryan. Whoever played Ryan on Thursday is as talented an actor as he is a gymnast.

Act 1 follows Ryan's experiences through the school day -- study hall, recess, gymnastics class and a class of unspecified subject in which an authoritarian teacher poses the question, Where is the Sea of Tranquillity? The answer in real life is, "The moon," and the classroom segment features a male in silver performing acrobatics on a loop of rope dangling high above the stage. There is a moment or two when the rope form a moonlike crescent. The acrobat gives one of the most impressive individual performances in Act 1.

The Flying Fruit Fly Circus

Performs "The Gift"

Where: Hawaii Theatre

When: 2 and 8 p.m. today

Admission: $30 to $45 for adults; $15 to $30 for students and seniors; and $7.50 to $15 for children

Call: 528-0506

As for Ryan, he gets bullied and bitten and pushed around a bit but bounces back, does his share of the tumbling and other stunts, and earns the friendship of his larger classmates by the time the day is over.

In Act 2, Ryan dreams of a wondrous place where everyone wears brightly colored spandex and performs ever more wondrous routines. A large ball, a magic book and an older guy who is evidently some kind of mentor or guide. Whatever. The Fruities' gymnastic and acrobatic abilities are the main thing here, and they work hard.

Several of the youths give exceptional performances. One of the male leads -- he wears purple and zero body fat -- is strong and charismatic throughout. In one of the aerial routines, he executes stunts without using a safety tether.

A young woman in bright lime-green slacks is the graceful star of a segment that uses lighted candles in glass cups to demonstrate the performer's balance and flexibility. For the finale of her performance, she balances a cup on her forehead, one on the palm of each hand, and one on the sole of each foot. She starts off lying on her back and ends up lying on her stomach with the cups still in place -- then reverses the process until she's on her back again and with all her candles still in place. As an example of precision, physical ability and sheer beauty, it is one of the highlights in this remarkable show.

This same woman also displays star quality with her performance on a vertical rope.

The overall level of execution by the cast as a whole was uneven on Thursday. The presentation is instantly reminiscent of the fabulous Cirque Eloize, which played here in 1998 and 2000. It can be fairly described as a junior varsity version staged by talented teens.

That said, the Fruities' enthusiasm will win over most who see them, even when jugglers fumble and tumblers miss their marks. One of the aerialists was obviously struggling through her trapeze routine Thursday, but if someone doing a floor routine flubs it and holds up an index finger -- evidently shorthand for "May I try it again, please?" -- you'll find yourself simply wishing 'em good luck.

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