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Freakshow

August 23rd, 2008 No comments

Freakshow (Carson Kreitzer) and directed by Geoffrey Hoffman is another delivery straight from clubbed thumb on the menu at convergence-continuum. Very like its counterpart from the 1930’s (Freaks) the play takes a hard look at what it is to be a freak and who may fall within the boundaries of this definition. Usually, of course, those who society would characterize as being “normal” are the ones that truly deserve the “brand” of freak: for behavior that is egregious on the soft side and utterly repugnant on the hard.

Mister Flip (Clyde Simon) is such a character. For most of the play Mr. Flip didn’t particularly strike me as being terribly offensive or vile. He ran his freakshow as the business it was; the one striking feature being that he kept a boy, re-labeled the “Pinhead” (Kellie McIvor) in a cage—which isn’t particularly humane, but neither was the roughly two – three hundred years of mental health management practices of Western civilization which did essentially the same thing with ‘unmanageable’ persons. It isn’t until 4/5ths of the way through Freakshow, when the Dog-faced Judith (Lucy Bredeson-Smith) delivers the story of how she became the Dog-faced Girl and of her time “as the star” of Mr. Flip’s traveling freakshow: prior to the arrival of Amalia, the living torso (Laurel Brooke-Johnson). It is Judith’s story of how she became the central attraction that reveals the true capacity for depravity that Mr. Flip commands—or perhaps he is simply brutal enough to do what needs to be done? Other occasions where Mr. Flip shows his capacity for brutality are mainly those that involve tough business practices, which can be understood given the context in which he operates; but none-the-less, all reveal that Mr. Flip, at least, has a soul that is to the “freaks” what their bodies are to his.

The other big current rushing through the play, like blood through an engorging… well, I won’t go there…is that of sexuality. Obviously, it goes hand-in-hand that the main attraction of seeing freaks is their physical deformity and the fear and self-consciousness that it drives onto the viewer; which is then logically followed by arousal (at one end) and simple speculative considerations regarding sexual practices…or other practices (at the other end). Kreitzer rightly recognizes this paradox and puts it squarely at the center of the play, in fact, opening the play with Amalia’s confrontational statement, “You are wondering if I have ever had sexual intercourse.” Judith, the Dog-faced girl, is also appropriates an overwhelming sense of sexual power, highlighted graphically in her story of the “old days” when she was the “star” of the show and lorded it over the men of the various towns the freakshow passed through. Sexuality drives many of the relationships between the characters, too. Matthew (Stuart Hoffman) is the “caretaker” of the traveling freakshow—“shoveling out the elephant shit”—but also ‘services’ Amalia in the evenings. And Aquaboy, the Human Salamander, (Shawn Galligan), has a tryst with The Girl, a runaway farm teen, (Sarah Kunchick). If one looks that the sexual or love trysts throughout, the only one that seems ‘normal’ is that of Matthew’s love of Amalia or possibly Amalia’s love of the Pinhead. All other relationships seem to be distorted in some way—Amalia’s relationship to Matthew is skewed by utility (she sees it serving a purely sexual function and eventually ‘fires’ him); The Girl’s love interest in Aquaboy seems to lose it’s luster when Aquaboy discusses running away and working in a factory for a living.

For the most part, in Freakshow, we see the stories of several characters presented in an episodic manner—that is, there is no real plot orientation driving the story any particular direction. The freakshow seems to die out of natural causes—lack of attendance due to numerous external factors. So our eye is placed squarely on the human interactions and their implications for who we are as people, as a society, culture, etc. Many times throughout Mr. Flip makes reference to P.T. Barnum, contextualizing the activities we’re seeing in both time and as a pattern of societal behavior and expectation in entertainment. Most other elements fall along predictable lines: the townies that want the show closed, at least on Sundays; running away from something to join the freakshow; the ‘selling’ of freak babies to the show because the parents don’t know what to do—or worse, want to make a fast buck; a bit of light romance; jealousy, envy, fear: all that is human.

Sade Wolfkitten, who usually relegates her talents to the lighting or sound control, steps out big for this production—and I means STEPS out—as in, on glass. Brining a bit of the carnival to Freakshow, Sade gives the audience what they want in a mesmerizing glass-walking feat followed finally by a jump from a stool—barefoot, of course!

The production is strong and Geoffrey Hoffman does an excellent job pacing the performance of a script which has the capacity to slow down and get choppy at times. His choice of lighting and tech effects is good too and directs the eye of the audience with subtlety. The use of Mark “K” Korneitchouk on the guitar fills in some of the “traveling” time effectively. Visually, the play was well done, too, from costuming to the set build to the flapping banners on the wall advertising the “products” of the traveling freakshow. The two big shout-outs go to Laurel Johnson for the at once torturous binding she endures as the torso Amalia, and, at second, for her ability to completely command the audience while having no arms or legs to use for gesture or motion—only her face and the bob of her head and neck for emphasis–and, of course, her powerful command of language. Lucy Bredeson-Smith also delivers hard in Judith’s story, which is profoundly engaging and held the audience wrapt as she subtly wove a tapestry between love and family to sexuality and desire through to brutality and rage. Lucy is showing a true command of her art and its ability to hold an audience fixed. I also enjoyed Stuart Hoffman, who lent a sense of dignity and strength to the character of Matthew which I felt was compelling.

Next up for con-con: Buried Child. Ah… Sam Shepard

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