'Link Link Circus': Theater Review

Brigitte Lacombe
Isabella Rossellini and Pan in 'Link Link Circus'
The most fun college course you never took.
5/3/2019

Isabella Rossellini follows up her acclaimed Sundance Channel series and theater piece, 'Green Porno,' with this one-woman, one-dog show exploring animal behavior and intelligence.

If Isabella Rossellini had been my professor, I would have done much better in school. That's the main feeling I came away with after Link Link Circus, her latest theatrical foray into animal behavior, which is as entertaining as it is informative. The not quite one-woman show (more on that in a bit) is a follow-up to Green Porno, a theatrical adaptation of her series of Sundance Channel short films about the sex lives of animals. Her new piece, which she wrote and co-directed with Guido Torlonia, deals with animal intelligence and feelings. As Rossellini cheekily points out, her last show was "waist down," while this one is "waist up."

Dressed in a chic ringmaster outfit, Rossellini welcomes us to "the smallest circus in the world." It consists mainly of her favorite animal-themed old toys, and the star attraction is Peter Pan (Pan for short), her small, adorable mixed-breed rescue dog, who steals the audience's hearts the moment he scampers onstage. Providing invaluable support is black beekeeper outfit-clad puppeteer and occasional Pan wrangler Andy Byers.

Rossellini is no dilettante on the subject. She operates a small Long Island organic farm, has written a book about raising chickens and is currently completing a master's degree in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College, where the show is being performed. She also volunteers raising guide dog puppies, the film footage of which induces a series of "Awws" from the crowd.

The show includes home movies and vintage photographs of Rossellini and her pets dating back to childhood. She also proudly shows off shots of an insect named after her. This is clearly a woman who loves animals, willingly admitting that she's guilty of anthropomorphizing her pets to the point of treating them like her children. Commenting on the facial expressiveness of chickens (who knew?), she marvels, "They remind me of silent movie stars!"  

Rossellini's enthusiasm for the subject is infectious as she delivers an enjoyable lecture encompassing scientific theories about animal sentience, referencing philosophers and scientists including Aristotle, Descartes, Pavlov, Darwin and B.F. Skinner, some of whom she also portrays. She delves into such subjects as the evolutionary ladder (illustrated by, what else, a ladder), whether animal behavior is learned or instinctual, how wild animals became domesticated over eons and whether chickens can count.

Despite the evening's "waist up" theme, Rossellini can't resist revisiting one of the most popular subjects of Green Porno, showing a short film about the corkscrew-shaped penises of ducks in which she plays a female duck with a particularly adaptable vagina. Needless to say, it's an eye-opener.

Illustrating her lecture with projected films, animation and drawings, Rossellini proves a delightful instructor, cheerfully willing to look ridiculous or make fun of herself to make her points. But for all her charm, she's upstaged time and again by her canine companion, who is periodically outfitted as a lion, sheep, elephant and other members of the animal kingdom. Executing tricks on demand and hitting every cue with a professionalism that would put most Broadway performers to shame, Pan emerges as the true star of the evening. If the treats frequently doled out by his human co-stars are his only payment, this dog needs a better agent.

Venue: Frederick Loewe Theater at Hunter College, New York
Performer-writer: Isabella Rossellini
Directors: Isabella Rossellini, Guido Torlonia
Set designers: Andy Byers, Rick Gilbert
Lighting designer: Jason Miller
Music and costume: Andy Byers
Presented by Hunter Theater Project