Review: ‘Link Link Circus’ at the Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College

A follow-up to her popular environmentalist TV series and touring show Green Porno, Isabella Rossellini’s Link Link Circus – presented by the Hunter Theater Project at the Frederick Loewe Theatre of Hunter College, where she is presently completing a Master’s Degree in Animal Behavior and Conservation – is a delightful and instructive exploration of animal intelligence and emotions, and the evolutionary link between us, as postulated by Charles Darwin in his seminal 1859 publication On the Origin of the Species. Created and co-directed by Rossellini (with Guido Torlonia), and performed by the award-winning actress and her adorable rescue pooch Pan, the “one-woman, one-dog show” (under the technical direction of Jason L. Miller) is part illustrated lecture, part animal act, and wholly engaging and enjoyable.

Isabella Rossellini and Pan (in a performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 2018). Photo by Maria Baranova.
Isabella Rossellini and Pan (in a performance at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 2018). Photo by Maria Baranova.

Did you know that birds have different accents? That chickens can recognize their individual coop mates? Or that pigeons are able to distinguish the paintings of Picasso from those of other artists? Rossellini explains it all, and does it with her characteristic wit, personable style, and infectious enthusiasm, addressing the audience directly, defining the appropriate ethological terminology, and even incorporating a sly homage to her mother Ingrid Bergman in animals’ perceived ability to act (though not as well as she could).

Sporting a freshly updated ringmaster’s suit (by Fanny Karst), Rossellini moves back and forth between her well-trained pet and an academic lectern, lovingly leading Pan’s impeccably executed tricks (with the assistance of Andy Byers and animal direction by Bill Berloni) and playfully tracing the history and most recent scientific discoveries in the study of fauna. Employing animation (by Andy Smetanka and Courtney Pure), home movies, original short videos, and audio clips (edited by Stacey Foster), she reveals her lifelong love and interest in animals, dating back to her childhood pets and toys, and the compelling findings of her current academic research.

In addition to citing the writings of Aristotle and Descartes, Rossellini assumes the guises of two medieval theologians and such noted historical thinkers as B.F. Skinner, Karl von Frisch, Carl Jung, and Darwin himself, to deliver the chronological development of facts and theories about our furry, finned, and feathered friends. The talented Pan, too, portrays a variety of roles, including a chicken, lion, elephant, sheep, and bee, in the cutest of costumes and to the reward of chewable treats for jobs well done. During this busy season of theater awards, it’s too bad there isn’t one for Best Featured Performance by a Pet; Pan would be a shoe-in.

The show’s vibrant circus theme and stars are supported by a colorful artistic design, created by Rick Gilbert (set), Gina Freedman (props), and Byers (set, costumes, and music composition), who also serves as on-stage puppeteer, beekeeper, and other assorted figures in the appealing and informative show.

Who doesn’t love cute animals and fascinating facts about them? Link Link Circus is the perfect combination that makes learning fun, eliciting “ooohs and ahhhs” for the irresistible Pan and “ohs and hmmms” for the wealth of knowledge provided by the ever-charming Isabella Rossellini.

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.

Link Link Circus plays through Friday, May 3, 2019, at the Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College – East 68th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 772-4448, or purchase them online.