By Rick Elina
Anticipation builds when a check of the time reveals that there’s only two minutes to curtain. When the doors open and the crowd files into the theatre, almost immediately, something seems amiss. Rather than the usual waiting for the lights to go down and the play to begin, the audience finds itself right in the middle of an early 20th century Freakshow.
Core Performance Manufactory’s production of Freakshow, by Carson Kreitzer, is quite simply a remarkable performance by an extremely talented and accomplished cast. In the opening minutes of the show, the audience realizes that they are the surreal life spectators of the various oddities and mutants starring in Mr. Flips traveling show. We get an immediate sense that our price of admission will include more than pointing and gawking. This is no casual walk through a side show tent. We are about to become intimate with these unfortunates who rarely feel a connection with the outside world, unless it involves heads turning away in disgust.
The story begins when the talking torso of a beautiful woman, tells us, without reservation, what we are all thinking. Thoughts better left private. But isn’t that the joy of being a spectator? We are privy to the sins of the confessors without the responsibility of giving absolution. Mr. Flip directs his opening comments to the audience and tells us in the confident voice of a carnival barker that he’s not a bad man. Played convincingly by the gifted Kent Williams, Mr. Flip, an ever so aptly named character, reveals alternate sides of the same coin with remarkable deftness. Is he a savior or an exploiter of human misery?
Amalia, portrayed by Morgana Shaw, is the enchanting woman with no arms or legs. Ironically, even without appendages, Amalia reveals a capacity to feel that helps us to better understand the other characters. She provides us with the true magnetic north to which the other “attractions” of the Freakshow are attracted. Judith, the dog-faced girl (LuLu Ward), tends to Amalia with the attention given to a new-born child. Matthew, the stable worker (Daniel R. States), loves Amalia and takes her for “walks,” boasting that she doesn’t weigh very much. Aquaboy (Sachin Patel), constantly seeks her counsel after discovering love for the first time. Pinhead, the caged simpleton (M. Shane Hurst), sings to Amalia. And it should be pointed out, that Mr. Hurst has a professional quality to his voice that alone, is worth the price of admission.
Freakshow is one of those rare gems of the theatre that, though lacking in plot, makes up for this forgivable shortcoming through its depth of character development. And these characters are memorable. They are lovable. They will stay with you long after the show is over. But great characters require great actors, and Freakshow delivers on both counts, under the solid direction of Elizabeth Ware. She says, “The play is a unique blend of beauty, poetry, and raw animalism. I am fascinated to explore Kreitzer’s world where the profane and the divine coexist so effortlessly.”
In the final analysis, the ultimate question of Freakshow must be resolved in the context of the day. In this present age of self-destructive celebrities, we are reminded once again of the harsh price of “shameless exhibition.”
Rick A. Elina is a playwright based in Plano, Texas and is the Theatre Critic for The North Dallas Gazette.