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|A CurtainUp Review
By Amanda Cooper
Marilyn Manson, Fear Factor, and even ER are a result of our fascination with morbidity -- the freaky -- the freak. One aspect of the fascination with the freaky, the American tradition of the Carnival Sideshow, however, is dying. Coney Island has only one left in operation -- Sideshows by the Seashore, which is kept in operation by the non-profit group Coney Island USA. It is its chair, Todd Robbins, who brings New Yorkers Carnival Knowledge. Robbins has been "with it" since his early teens, when an older neighbor began to teach him the skills needed to be a part of the show (fire-eating, sword swallowing, light bulb-eating; the usual)." The term is what the sideshow crowd uses with each other to abbreviate "With it, for it, and never against it" (the institution of the sideshow) -- it is a common ground, even a spiritual affinity for those in the industry and beyond.
It is difficult to leave the SoHo Playhouse and not be "with it." Carnival Knowledge starts well before the show begins. A drink in one hand, and popcorn and cotton candy in the other are allowed -- even supplied after a short walk to the mini-midway downstairs. Various carnival games are available for playing as well, and bright lights and colorful posters are everywhere.
From the beginning to the end we are regaled with freaks, freaky abilities, a saturation of light and sound, and educational anecdotes. Not only do we watch Robbins eat a light bulb, but we also hear how he has eaten over 3,000 G.E. bulbs in his lifetime, and those "with it" say G.E. stands for Good Eating. And perhaps it is this light bulb eating that gives Robbins the ability to talk at lightening speed; firing facts and slightly sour jokes at the audience. But hey, who doesn't want to hear, "some people may find this hard to swallow" just before a performer slides a sword down his throat?
As Robbins explains it, a freak is someone who has an extreme abnormality and so, the only bona-fide freak here is the salsa dancing Little Jimmy. Yet just one legit freak doesn't keep this, this sideshow from being eye-opening and fun.
Robbins, along with Little Jimmy, Twistina, The Flying Ebola Brothers and others, proves that live freaky entertainment rules supreme over the filmed. Hopefully this show will draw enough of an audience to keep it from disappearing faster than you can say "Coney Island USA."
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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