New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"Carnival Knowledge"
Fairfield Theatre Company, Fairfield

Sword-swallowers. Fire-eaters. Light bulb devourers. It's all in Todd Robbins' remarkable show now at the Fairfield Theatre Company. But don't be deceived into thinking this is an ordinary circus act. This essentially one-man show has more going for it than just circus shenanigans.

Even as he performs, Robbins shares with the audience his considerable knowledge and respect for the old sideshows which were once an intrinsic part of the circus world. Robbins, who was inspired by the like of P.T.Barnum and the sideshow freaks (for whom he has the greatest respect), has performed countrywide. But his home base is Coney Island, New York, where he is deeply involved in the country's last remaining side show, its Museum, and its Coney Island Sideshow School.

But it is onstage that Robbins shines. Historian, narrator, stand-up comic, performer, pitchman all in one, he offers a non-stop, rapid-fire two-hour monologue, as he puts himself, his voluptuous assistant, and, incidentally, the audience, through the paces. "We will amaze and amuse you, confound and confuse you," he assures the audience.

And indeed he does. "No! no! ….Oh God, no!" people were heard to cry, as Robbins stuffed balloons up his nose and blades down his throat (to name just a few of his anatomical feats).

It is a love affair from Robbins' opening sally--when he appears on stage, in straw hat and pitchman attire to lure his viewers into the tent. The love affair grows more intense throughout the evening, not only because the audience adores Robbins' extraordinary skills, but because he is warm, funny, and endearing into the bargain.

This is a man who could have invented the audience participation technique. As he pulls people from the audience in this sometimes scary but very genial atmosphere, they participate willingly. At the close Robbins has the audience wildly firing long skinny balloons at each other and at the walls and ceilings. It is chaos, but a chaos carefully engineered by this wily manipulator. Learning to live in chaos is preparation "for these troubled times," he assures the audience.

Robbins may be faulted for letting the show run on too long. Each act could be introduced with a few sentences rather than an entire chapter. Robbins, it must be confessed, is in love with words and with the sound of his own voice. And his assistant, Shannon Morrow, though lovely to look at in all her personae, would do better to skip the posturing and absurd facial expressions.

Nevertheless, this show is a winner. A surprise show which is more than the sum of its parts, "Carnival Knowledge" seduces the audience and rends it helpless with laughter.

-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 8, 2004

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