Saturday, October 17, 2015

Freakishly Human

Ben and gary  in theater lobby after the Sideshow Performance 
Yesterday, I watched my friend Ben perform in the musical Sideshow, staged by Porchlight Music Theater. It sounds sketchy and possibly exploitative for a little person to play the role of a dwarf character working for a Freak show, but Sideshow, like other more recent productions that highlight circuses and performers put on stage because of their out of the ordinary appearances, tells the story from point of view of disabled characters, highlighting their humanity and in no way exploiting physical differences.  Ironically, Ben was the only actor with a disability in the production, even though the majority of the characters were disabled. Ben often performs in a production of "Six Stories Up," written and directed by another friend of mine, Tekki Lomnicki.  The cast of "Six Stories Up" is typically a majority of people with disabilities.

The Porchlight production follows the careers of the Hilton Sisters, twin sisters who are conjoined, from a Sideshow in San Antonio, Texas, to Vaudeville, to their eventual casting in the movie Freaks and departure to Hollywood.  From the opening number, the show reveals that the twins, along with the other characters who make up the sideshow, share the same emotional needs and desires as those a part of mainstream society, but because of their physical differences they will never be accepted or a part of mainstream society.  My favorite part comes at the end of act one.  The twins have recently been whisked away by a talent scout from the sideshow and their abusive employer.  Daisy, the more assertive, ambitious of the twins, has fallen in love with the talent scout and believes that her feelings are reciprocated.  Then, after one of their debut Vaudeville performances, the twins over hear the talent scout speaking to the press corps. Responding to a question about his relationship with Daisy, the talent scout says something to the effect of, "It's just for show. I could never love something like that." In a simple expression on her face, Daisy betrays heartbreak and devastation, then the twins close out the first act with a number about what it's like to feel human but never to be treated as human.  I could relate.  I am sure many other dwarfs could relate also.

Banner hanging from the rafters on the set of Sideshow 
The show concludes as the twins transition from Vaudeville to Hollywood.  At first, when the twins are approached by the Hollywood Producer, they are thrilled by the opportunity that the Hollywood stage offers, and they also believe that they have been recruited to the world of movies based upon their talents.  But when they ask the name of the movie for which they have been cast, the producer proudly exclaims, "Freaks," and the twins understand that things will never truly change.

A second favorite part of the show came after the final curtain.  Part of the set was a large scale reproduction of a publicity poster for the movie Freaks. The top line of the poster reads, "Can a full grown woman truly love a midget?"  Offensive language aside, six years in my marriage, I am going to say, the answer is.....yes.  

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