For instance, I don't see a lot of neo-realism in the film. Even if one concedes that the neo-realists, apart from choosing non-professional actors and often shooting on location, 'manipulated' and organized what we see far more than the theory would allow, I still can't see a lot of similarities with what Bergman is doing in this film. To put it in a very simplified way: the neo-realists tried to create the appearance of 'natural reality' by their art, Bergman tries to convert reality into theatre.
I would agree with much of what you say here if it were about any number of other Bergman films, but not necessarily this one. This film may be about characters who are involved in theatrical pursuits, but much of the film strikes me as realist in its basic techniques. There are scenes within the film that engage with the theatrical in interesting ways, and as I wrote in my original review, I think these work very well -- not only the scene of Harriet Andersson on the theater's stage in the dark, but the fight in the circus ring towards the end of the film, which turns private emotions into public spectacle. Bergman was always interested in the theater, and this film is no exception, but in this case a lot of the film looks at the realm of the theater from a realist perspective. The great bulk of the film is very much down to earth, grounded in the everyday realities of these characters, who happened to be involved in the circus and the theater. For me, there was definitely a tension here between the more expressionist sequences and the more prosaic conversations. It's like there are these brief flashes of brilliant purely visual storytelling that make the lengthy speeches and monologues unnecessary -- this doesn't happen for me in later Bergman films, where he learned to trust his images to get across their meaning, and let his dialogue roam into different areas so that the two aspects complement rather than duplicate each other.
I definitely wouldn't argue too strenuously with anyone who likes the film, though. It's not bad by any means, and there's a lot that I did
like in it, although the whole was somewhat less than the sum of its parts for me.