and Freaks in NYC: Review of Carnival Knowledge
says sideshows are dead? "Freak chic" is alive
and well in Carnival Knowledge, which opened this
summer at the SoHo Playhouse.
By Alden Gewirtz
Robbins presents this off-Broadway sideshow experience
in the comfort of a Manhattan theater for those who can't
make it out to Coney Island or to see the Jim Rose Circus
Sideshow when it's in town.
along with the ever-flexible Twistina, stage veteran Little
Jimmy, and a menagerie of other freaks and geeks, perform
many of the classic ten-in-one acts (such as sword swallowing
and fire eating) and showcase the odd and unusual (the
headless woman, "Zanitra the Gorilla Girl")
for which sideshows are known — all with the requisite
snappy one-liners. But more than just putting on a review
of "gawk and shudder acts," Robbins relates
the history behind the American sideshow, traces its rise
and fall, and dispels its myriad myths. As he puts it,
Carnival Knowledge "lifts the canvas tent
flap" on the sideshow and explains the hows and whys,
demonstrating what makes the impossible become possible.
having the audience participate in some of the acts, and
doling out carny "slanguage," Robbins also makes
all the viewers co-conspirators in the sideshow experience.
The playwright's lifelong love of the sideshow is apparent
(he's both the Chairman of the Board of Coney Island USA,
and the Dean of the Coney Island Sideshow School), and
this passion, as well as his interaction with the audience,
makes the evening that much more entertaining. Robbins'
postmodern approach is fitting on the stage, and follows
the trend of acts like Blue Man Group, Penn & Teller,
and Ricky Jay. In the age of so-called reality entertainment,
in which "Fear Factor" and "Jackass"
push the boundaries of extreme behavior, Robbins' Carnival
Knowledge is the original "shock entertainment,"
and has loads more heart.
Knowledge is currently playing at the SoHo Playhouse,
15 Vandam Street (near 6th Avenue) in New York City. Performances
are Thur. at 8pm, Fri. at 9pm, Sat. at 8pm & 10:30pm,
and Sun. at 3pm. Tickets (which include admission to a
Mini Midway and complimentary game tickets, where everyone's
a winner) are $35-$45 (VIP tickets are $80 and include
drinks), and can be purchased through Ticketcharge at
212-239-6200 or the SoHo Playhouse box-office. See www.carnivalknowledge.com
for more information.
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