Producer-performer Lisa Hulse steps into a 1920s sideshow overseen by a seductive ringmaster (Al Milburn), where all the outcast acts represent aspects of oppression that we’re still familiar with in the 2020s. I tip my hat to the ambition behind this original mix of circus-inspired burlesque and social commentary, with the admirable message that “we’re all freaks in search of a chosen family.”
Unfortunately, this troupe’s aims often outpace their ability to execute. Playwright Ricardo Soltero-Brown’s baroque poetry elevates the simplistic “Greatest Showman minus Barnum” story by Shawn Watkins-Yates, but only director Travis Eaton (playing a cruel carny) is able to deliver the dialogue with the appropriate emotional investment. Donna Elanor’s pastiche score is banal at best, and the cast — most of whom have severe problems with their pitch and/or volume — can barely be heard above the plodding piano tracks.
Freak Show is probably the only place at Fringe to see aerial arts, PG-13 striptease, and gender-affirming interpretive dance all in one show. I only wish this carnival earned its ballyhoo with a better blowoff.
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