Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Last Sideshow? Part 7

BJ is the Tennessee Tuxedo to Chumley’s...um...Chumley. Later, Ward Hall tells me BJ works for Abbott’s Magic Company in Colon, Michigan. BJ has presence. He delivers his script with enthusiasm, even the corny jokes. Except, he lacks confidence in his material, almost apologizing after each groaner, rather than enjoying the moment. This fault is not only his own. I see it everyday in my store. After practically every joke, one salesman follows with, “Just kidding,” or “Hey, come on now”.

Being an improved speaker over Chumley, BJ handles a longer set. His first introduction directs us to stage right and a four-foot square curtained box on raised legs. It is a classic sideshow illusion. BJ does all but blow dust of it when he opens the curtain.

“She has eight legs, and I think that’s great. You should see her dance a jig. The head of a beautiful woman, the body of a spider, it’s Spidora.”

Spidora’s visit is brief. Her appearance is especially confusing to the audience partially because she is a twin of Ms. Viva and partially because the audience did not listen when Prof. Chumley told us that, there would be “illusions in the show, you’ll know them when you see them, and they are just for fun.” I don’t know what the rest of audience was expecting, but it wasn’t this.

We move from Spidora’s box on one end of the stage to the other end of the stage and the guillotine. This is an impressive piece of apparatus. Well-worn and stained, (perhaps with blood) thick timbers make up the frame. BJ cranks up the heavy blade with a click, click, click. Ms. Viva returns, yet again, and puts her neck at risk.

At the top of its rise, the blade automatically releases. The blade crashes down. Like watching slow motion replay rather than real life, Ms. Viva’s head slides down into the waiting box.

“It was less bloody in rehearsal,” BJ says.

The now disembodied head does not float over stage and sing a song. It does not even roll down the stage and answer questions. Instead, BJ struggles with the box that seemingly holds Ms. Viva’s flesh pumpkin. Next to the guillotine is a chair and a board stretches between the arms of that chair. BJ seemingly dumps the head of Ms. Viva out onto the board. She speaks briefly with BJ, but apparently, this part of the script was left up to the participants. The tête-à-tête is mercifully short. Viva is re-boxed.

BJ gets to show off his talents, next. He juggles knives. In the half a dozen shows I watched, he dropped them-- every show.

Trying to fit twelve acts into a half hour has advantages and weaknesses. The poor acts are over before the audience can hate them. Mostly. But, the good acts weaken without time for proper build up.

The audience’s attention redirects to a side stage. The curtain opens to reveal a bed of nails. A large bed of nails. I never have seen such a densely populated bed of nails. It reminds me of iron fur. BJ tells us these nails are real. I believe him. I'm in the business. Will the rest of the audience believe him without evidence to the contrary? With the fakery already observed, they would do better to prove the menace of the spikes.

Lady Diabla, the heroin chic girl who was in the midst of the blade box when we walked in, mounts the stage to lie upon the bed. She does to little response. The lack of implied danger to blame. Tea-lee, a heavily tattooed and pierced beauty, joins the stage and sits on the prone Diabla. There is a smattering of applause.

Back to center stage, BJ turns over the show to Diane. She swallows swords. They are real and examinable (both the swords and Diane, I imagine). Diane gulps down the first and removes it. She then swallows the second one. She bends at the waist, mouth wide to display the blade’s path. Diane finishes by allowing an audience volunteer to slide the sword out of her throat.

Diane turns the stage over to the most abused performer in the group, Ms. Viva. This time she will tell the tale instead of being the object of it.

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