Richard%20Termine3.jpgI’ve seen some memorable entrances in my time as a theatergoer, but Patrick Leonard’s appearance at the start of La Vie is going to be hard to top. I’m reluctant to spoil the surprise, so let’s just say you’ll never know what hit you. Most of what follows in La Vie, the erotic existential circus currently running at the opulent Spiegeltent, is as surprising as Leonard’s entrance; it may not be a show to take Grandma to, but it’s certainly an ideal setting for a hot date. And since there’s music, drinks and food served outside the tent before the show (as well as a bar inside), you can come early to canoodle and enjoy the breathtaking view of the harbor from foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Or just go with your buddies, as I did, and you’ll still have a blast. The production is the work of Montreal based Cirque du Soleil renegades The 7 Fingers, who have set their series of gravity-defying feats in a sort of gin-soaked purgatory. Our host is the hilariously arrogant Sebastien Soldevila, a sort of plump Merovingian from The Matrix movies, and he begins by eerily informing the audience, with utter seriousness, that we are all dead. (It’s later mentioned that their original title La Mort didn’t test well.) This ominous mood that starts the show serves as a stirring counterpoint to the awe-inspiring aerial acrobatics that follow. Unlike the sedentary corpses in the audience, The 7 Fingers desperately try to escape their mortal fate by defying gravity, physics and sometimes common sense.

But La Vie is far from gloomy – it’s a macabre celebration of all the latent potential locked within these death-bound vehicles we inhabit. Under the mysterious old big top at the river’s edge, the 7 Fingers unleash a perpetual array of astonishment: there are miraculous acts of balancing, mind-bending contortionism in a straight-jacket, an amazing two-man tour-de-force of diabolo and didgeridoo, a relationship break-up expressed as extreme acrobatics and a tango so sexy you may need a cold shower afterwards. It’s true that toward the end I did start to think, “Okay, another vertical rope routine?” but, like life, it’s over before you know it. By the end you’re bound to agree with Sebastian’s smug assessment: “Purgatory’s not so bad with this crowd.”

La Vie continues at Spiegelworld [South Street Seaport, Pier 17] through August 31st. Ticket prices vary.