Daggers MacKenzie is enough to discourage anyone from running away with the circus. Written and performed by Melissa A. Kaplan, this curious one-woman musical is the tale of Emma “Daggers” MacKenzie, goody-two-shoes country girl turned murderous knife juggler.
With the barest of motivations, Daggers throws her lot in with the visiting circus, taken under the wing—and into the bed—of the predatory, caricatured circus madame. Her character transforms as quickly as her outfit, as she’s thrust on stage in a perilously tight corset, knives in hand. There’s no way this can end well.
There’s a limit to the possibilities of the solo show, but it’s one that Daggers MacKenzie defiantly ignores. With audacious disregard for its chosen form, the show dumps a whole circus full of characters on stage, some clumsily played by Kaplan, others given voice from the tech desk. The result is an incoherent, inconsistent mess, proving—if proof were needed—that sex scenes and stabbings need more than one player.
And creating a compelling musical for just one performer is a much greater challenge than crafting a one-person play. Kaplan has neither the charisma nor the vocal chords to carry the piece alone, her voice wavering and wobbling throughout. Her score—mostly forgettable, but with its odd moments—demands energy and attack, neither of which it gets.
The only thrills come courtesy of the knife juggling, which Kaplan accomplishes with skill. It’s not enough, though, to rescue a piece that has long lost sight of its purpose.