Pinhead, Salamander boy, The Woman With No Arms and No Legs and their tenders seem so alien, at first, in the Youngblood Theatre‘s production of Carson Kreitzer’s Freakshow. We see them as an audience for such a traveling show might have seen them circa 1900, presentationally, in glaring light.
But we quickly move into their intimate circle. Slowly, we come to understand the hierarchy of this traveling band, the roles they play in private life. Kreitzer’s ingenious script makes a striptease of it. We come to realize that the limbless and ostensibly helpless Amalia (played regally by Tess Cinpinski) is the matriarch, beloved but capable of wrath that intimidates even apparently amoral Mr. Flip (Rich Gillard), the owner and ringmaster.
It takes a while to know what the play will be about, and the mystery is a good thing. Kreitzer and director Jason Economus give us plenty of time to idly observe the freaks. In addition to the above, Benjamin James Wilson plays the warbling, caged Pinhead and Adrian Feliciano the Human Salamander, who has grown gills and spends all his time in a water tank. A girl (April Paul) in some passing-through town falls for him, signs on and reinvents herself as a fortune-teller. Strange, but in this world, plausible.
What do the freaks do, in their private time? They dream, bicker, kid, ponder their lot in life, discuss their relationships, worry and wonder about the future, rehash the past. We discover that Amalia is carrying on sexually with the simple, ardent fellow (Andrew Edwin Voss) who shovels the dung of the exotic animals in the show. We discover that Judith, who faithfully attends to Amalia and suffers no more deformity than a hairlip, was once the star attraction.
Why? How? Because life is about getting over things and moving on. Because the freakshow is a family, thrown together like all families by accident and circumstance. It’s bound together by necessity and, if not exactly love, the unshakable assumption that everyone cares for everyone else, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Freakshow has opened on Halloween weekend, and its grotesque aspects make it apt. But really, it’s a fascinating play about family dynamics, about old wounds and shifting conflicts, affections and roles.
Who’s going home for a big family Thanksgiving?
Freakshow runs through Nov. 20 in a rough space in the Lincoln Storage Warehouse, 2018 S. 1st St., on the northeast corner of 1st and Becher. Tickets are $15. Call 414-520-5412. More info here.