For its 10th anniversary, Circus Contraption ditched its traditional cirque noir aesthetic for something brighter, but no less sinister. Gone is its usual American gothic of cobwebs, lace, and palette of red and black, in favor of late-'70s flash: rhinestones, turquoise, and white leather capes.
Despite the switch, The Show to End All Shows hangs together like any Contraption production: acrobatics, juggling, aerial routines, the ringmaster (who never seems to enjoy himself onstage), and the brassy, Balkan-flavored Circus Contraption Band (which always does). This show is also a loose metaphor for the decline of America: The ringmaster gets fatter, the routines become more lurid, and, in the end, the circus disintegrates and bugs invade the stage. But the obscure plot is just a distraction (as are some of the more anemic routines, like a tired trained-poodle bit that should be put down).
More importantly, the Circus has retained its playfully dark charisma: dancing cockroaches, animal routines gone wrong (Max Davis has a creepily convincing randy-monkey routine), and an apocalyptic closing number led by Drew Keriakedes, a bald and bearded musician with a death's-head grin.
Keriakedes, a longtime member of the Circus band, performs a few simple stunts in the second act, but they're among the show's most memorable. He descends from the band platform to the center ring and sings (rasps, really) about how he sold his innocence for the tattered glamour of "showbiz." His mocking delivery, desultory jazz hands, and chorus of "Can you spare a dollar" send a chill through the Circus's warehouse-turned-theater. He bumbles through his brief routine—pounding a nail into his sinus and deep-throating a dagger—with a dark, shambling grace that epitomizes Circus Contraption at its best.