Review: 'Psy' performance in Irvine has moments of comic inspiration but has trouble focusing

"Psy," the new acrobatic trifle from Montreal's the Seven Fingers of the Hand, leaps off the shrink's couch for an evening of humorous athleticism inspired by the neuroses that plague our daily lives.

The 11-member cast takes turns acting out various mental afflictions, including paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia. The show, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre through Sunday, has its moments of comic inspiration, but an overall lack of focus and some formulaic sequences lead to a mixed diagnosis.

The cerebral nature of psychology doesn't always lend itself naturally to acrobatics. "Psy," written and staged by Shana Carroll, often strains to make the synaptic connections between the mental and physical worlds. At times, you wish it would jettison the high-concept premise and just focus on jumping higher.

Seven Fingers is like an indie-hipster version of Cirque du Soleil, with a cast of young, good-looking performers whose stylishness suggests a recent spree at Urban Outfitters. Their repertoire combines street dance, acrobatics and traditional circus acts, set to an electronic house beat.

The company's modest production values aren't likely to impress audiences inured by years of the Cirque brand. But like Seven Fingers' other touring shows ("Traces" is best known), the main pleasures of "Psy" come from watching beautiful bodies stretched to their limits.

The show's most successful sequences, which come after the intermission, are the simplest in concept, managing to turn the minimal staging into an advantage. Catherine Girard nearly steals the show playing a woman suffering from a chronic sleeping disorder. Pillow in hand, she shimmies up and down a pole, assuming various poses of drowsiness with her equally adept partner, Jean-Philippe Cuerrier.

Projecting an effortless elan, they are the Ginger and Fred of insomnia.

Almost as memorable is Olga Kosova, who plays a woman with anger management issues. Her aerial-rope act is the show's most physically dangerous, performed without any visible safety devices. Bursting with energy, she brings a healthy dose of eroticism to her high-altitude twirling.

Performers Julien Silliau and Guillaume Biron also make quite an impression, stripping off their shirts to perform the gymnastics wheel and the trapeze, respectively.

Aside from these isolated moments, the show suffers from poor pacing and a meandering structure. A chaotic flashback sequence to one character's traumatic birthday party goes on for too long, while another trapeze act feels oddly truncated. "Psy" could probably lose both acts and shorten its nearly two-hour run time to a more compact 90 minutes.

Other scenes come off as time filler even though they are expertly executed. A juggling routine involves performers hurling pins up and down a multi-story structure. The finale features a teeterboard the sends characters hurtling through the air. Both sequences are visually impressive but hardly novel in concept.

"Psy" occasionally finds the right mix of acrobatics and comedy, but the script needs another round of analysis to resolve its outstanding issues.

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