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Freakshow
The Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar at Fort Fringe

Remaining Performances:
July 17th at 8:45 pm
July 23 at 6:30 pm

What they say: “Freakshow at a crossroads — the Dog Faced Woman sniffs freedom — the Ringmaster seeks redemption — and what lies in the mind of the Woman With No Arms and No Legs anyway? Step right up…if you dare.”

Caroline’s take: The description makes this show sound like some sort of spectacle that will disturb the audience;  really, it’s nothing like that.  Burrowing into the minds of the various players involved, the show illuminates what keeps them exploiting themselves (and each other) day after day.  It’s a simple enough premise—-what goes on in the minds of 1900s “circus freaks,” people who are born with or develop various strange qualities that turns them into spectacles?  But to hear their own perceptions changes your assumptions immediately.

It all begins with Amalia, “The Woman With No Arms and No Legs,” who introduces the cast and crew of “Mr. Flip’s Freakshow and Traveling Jungle.”  There’s Aquaboy, the human salamander, who started off as a kid with extra skin between his fingers and toes and eventually grew gills after spending so much time in the water.  There’s also Pinhead, who appears to be mentally retarded and lives on his hands and knees in a cage.  Their attendants are Mr. Flip, the owner and ringleader, Judith, his assistant and a former star of the show, and Matthew, the young animal lover who just wants to help these people as they travel around the country.  At one stop, a young girl falls in love with Aquaboy and joins the motley crew.

Amalia serves as narrator, spotlighting the trials and tribulations of each character and pinpointing what brought them together.  Amid the love triangles, battles for attention, and attempts to escape their oppressive environment, the show keeps returing to the fact that none of the stars ever fit in among their peers.  It might be because, like Pinhead and Amalia, they will always be different, or it could be that they are so profoundly unhappy with their family lives that they literally run away to join the circus.  All the actors are so conscious of their characters’ neuroses and characteristics that the small conflicts seem real, regardless of how different the people may look.  The differences between the humans and “freaks” are often too difficult to reconcile, which pulls them apart in the end: They long for a sense of community that is never fully achieved.

Even the set captures the freakish quality of the show.  The legless woman sits on a stool behind a podium, disguising her actual limbs, the Pinhead has his own straw-lined cage to play in, and Aquaboy has a makeshift tank that he can splash around in. And it all happens under a tent, which is so fitting for a show about a circus—a more appropriate venue couldn’t be found.

See it if: You’re looking for a comic and poignant reflection on what’s weird about all of us.

Skip it if: You are scared of circuses.