Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Last Sideshow? Part 8

Ms. Viva, after being shocked, arachnid-ized, beheaded, disembodied, and soon to be steel footed, will introduce only a single illusion. Looking in our imaginary sideshow almanac, it is another classic, appearing shortly after and directly related to Spidora’s creation. It is Serpentina.

To Ms. Viva’s right, she opens the raised cabinet to reveal a tree branch horizontally bisecting the interior. On the branch appears to be a large constrictor-type of snake, a long scaled body with the head of a woman. It must the half-twin sister of Diane, our sword-swallowing siren, because the faces match. Again, our view is momentary and Viva hides Serpentina away. The final act of the show is about to begin.

Madam Tea-Lee is her name. We’ve seen her twice already. First, when we walked in removing the blades from the blade box. Second, she sat on the reclining Lady Diabla as a climax to the bed of nails. At one time, the circus, the carnival, the sideshow provided safe (a relative term) haven for the odd, unusual, criminal, and disenfranchised of society. Many, uncomfortable in the “straight” world, find acceptance under canvas. Madam Tea-Lee is heavily tattooed and heavily pierced. Shocking, perhaps to patrons from the heartland, but not iconoclastic anymore. She is a sideshow cliché, de rigueur with the emergence of shock shows like Jim Rose’s.

That aside, Madam Tea-Lee is the best talker of the group. She begins her set by moving to the front of a side stage and performing fire manipulation. That’s a fancy way of saying fire eating. She does it as well as anyone. Marring her terrific turn, the act is performed at floor level, which prevents most of the audience from seeing it. After her act, she’ll move over one stage to her left.

On that stage, she reveals Bessie Howe, (not Vikki Condor as the banner advertised) the four-legged girl. Between sets, Lady Diabla has not only gained a new name, but also sprouted two additional, all-be-it temporary, legs. Diabla...Bessie...who-ever...becomes a one-woman chorus line performing a high kicking dance while seated in an enormous chair. Tea-Lee returns the audience to the main stage and the Ballerina of the Blades.

She directs our attention to a short ladder, its rungs replaced with swords. She bangs an extra sword against the blades to prove the reality of them. The sharpness of the blades is left to our imagination. Ms. Viva, now bare foot, ascends and descends the ladder, her feet unscathed their journey. Now, we return to where we came in, to the blade box.

Madam Tea-Lee opens the wooden coffin and Lady Diabla (sans extra appendages) returns to lie in the box. After closing and locking Diabla in, Tea-Lee will drop 13 over-sized blades into slots pre-cut in top of the box. There are three large blades and ten smaller blades. I can best describe them as big metal pizza spatulas without the long handles.

The first large blade slices the box in two. The second and third cut each half into half; the box is now quartered. The remaining ten blades penetrate the box in diagonal angles seemingly leaving no space for Lady Diabla to exist. But, Madam Tea-Lee assures us that, indeed, “this is not a magic trick. She (Diabla) is not under the box, behind the box, or vanished from this box.” In answer to the unasked question, Diabla’s hand slips up between the blades to wave.

“Lady Diabla is not a magician. She is a contortionist.” Madam continues. In order to perform this illusion, Lady Diabla must “bend, twist, fold, and contort her body around each of the blades.”

The story moves to the blow-off. We learn that this act is an extra feature. Lady Diabla performs this, her traditional family act, only by the good favor of the audience. For the price of one dollar and one dollar only, we can climb up on the stage, look into the box, and see her pretzel like condition.

Yes, I’ll pay my dollar and so will many others. I don’t do it for the cheap and badly photocopied souvenir postcard. I don’t do it to see how the trick works. I don’t do it to see a scantily clad woman snaked around the metal obstructions. I do because that is the thing to do. Madam Tea-Lee told the story and sold it well. Call it showman’s honor, if you will. I become a shill for the house and pay for the privilege. So will you, given the chance.

Madam Tea-Lee talks a steady stream. I am impressed. Some of the lines are long; she keeps the line moving, keeps selling the ding to stragglers, and keeps the interest in the rest of the room high. When the last of the curious depart, she begins to remove the blades. Tea-Lee talks on the subject of this being a continuous sideshow. She points out the exhibits to the right side of the tent including the replica skeleton of Ling-Mae, the Chinese giant woman.

Uncoiled, Lady Diabla receives her applause.

Madam Tea-Lee introduces Prof. Chumley and leaves the stage.

The show goes on.

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