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The saucy world of 'Empire'


Ringling Bros. meets Benny Hill in this adult show

COURTESY PHOTOS: MIKE EMMETT - Spiegelworlds Empire includes acrobat Miss. A. and her hanging bubble and the Gorilla Girls.Warning: If you are at all shy, prudish or shrink from the spotlight, do NOT sit in the front row at Spiegelworld’s “Empire.” Latecomers were paraded around the circular stage, front-row sitters were hauled up for semi-ironic lap dances, and one bald guy got his head licked. Some front row ticket holders sat looking mortified for the full 90 minutes, in fear of their doom.

“Empire” is an adult event, a saucy circus, where Ringling Bros. meets Benny Hill. (However it’s only 21-and-older because of the liquor licensing rules.) The two main principles seem to be that underwear is sexier than sparkly leotard, and circuses shouldn't leave the funny stuff to the clowns.

Foot juggling of a man is something to behold at Spiegelworlds Empire.The show has been extended through Jan. 24, and rightly so. It’s a shot in the glute for the live theater/spectacle scene in Portland.

The Benton Lot is a parking lot just off Broadway near the multicolored streetcar stop designed by artist Jorge Pardo. On the lot sits what looks like a very large yurt — the Spiegeltent. Inside the partially heated chamber, acrobats gyrate and sweat, liberally touching each other and sometimes members of the audience.

The show opens with Miss A., a woman in a giant plastic hamster ball suspended from the ceiling. Sometimes it cracks open a bit and her hair or a limb come out. She moves through every possible configuration of her body and the ball’s surfaces, folding like a lock knife and bending like a noodle. Now that’s how you become the focus of attention.

The hosts, Oscar and Fanny, are like your funny unmarried uncle and aunt: hilarious, dressed up and always ready to disrobe. Oscar is eerily like Dan Savage, the agony uncle of “Savage Love” fame. They do some eye-opening things with a banana.

The acts change at a brisk pace, interspersed by Miss Purple (Tessa Alves from Canada) crooning songs with New York themes, wonderfully accompanied by Moondog, a Lenny Kravitz clone, circa 1990, on guitar. Style tip: The whole show is more Lenny than Lemmy. Sometimes the cast comes out parading rough plastic models of famous New York buildings, which makes no sense. But who cares?

One tumbler on his back uses his feet to spin another by the belly, twirling him like a pencil. When they mess up, it’s gratifying to know it’s real. A pair of buff gymnasts perform on two pairs of parallel bars that form a square, almost hitting each other and showering the audience with chalk dust.

COURTESY PHOTO: MIKE EMMETT - Spiegelworlds Empire includes the Gorilla Girls.The Gorilla Girls represent thousands of suburban hours and dollars spent on a cheer team gone wrong. A roller skating couple spin at incredible speeds, and the possibility of getting four acrylic wheels in the face at 20 mph is distinct and terrifying. And there’s acroyoga done right, without all the self-congratulatory chatter.

The round stage is only nine feet across and almost everything happens there. The slowest section, a balancing act, involving a dozen large palm fronds and one sweaty dude with a mastery of Qigong, is truly gripping.

The fact that everyone leaves smiling and without a scratch is the payoff. Especially for those seated in the front row.

Spiegelworlds Empire will stage at 7 p.m. the next two Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (Jan. 15-17, Jan. 22-24) at the Spiegeltent at the Rose Quarter. Tickets are $19-$74.50 and available at www.ticketmaster.com.