Disability Freak shows——Hits and misses.

 Perhaps you saw the “Side Show” song and dance number during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year production. It intrigued me how the two female leads were able to stay “conjoined” at the hips or shoulders through the difficult dance maneuvers.

Conjoined twins.

 Two red-heads in red dresses standing hip to hip on a stage.

“Side Show”— not-so-disabled twins.

Perhaps you’ve also seen episodes of  “Freak Show,” part of the American Horror Story anthology  broadcast on the cable television channel FX in the United States. It features a variant on a conjoined twin, the two-headed Bette and Dot Tattler (played by Sarah Paulson). Other characters include: lobster boy Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) and his mother, the bearded Ethel (Kathy Bates). Jimmy’s father, the secretly homosexual ‘strong man’ Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis), also joins the freak show, accompanied by his wife, a three-breasted woman, Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett).  Whew!

 "Freak Show" twins (Sarah Paulson).

“Freak Show” twins (Sarah Paulson).

And as if that wasn’t enough, the troupe—led by  double-amputee entrepreneur Elsa Mars  (Jessica Lange)—is threatened and savaged by a variety of demonic characters who hate freaks. The worst of these, I imagine (since I haven’t seen the miniseries) is Twisty the Clown, featured in the promo poster below, who’s patterned after a real-life serial killer from Wisconsin who dressed up as a clown. 

Poster of white-faced "Freak Show" clown with mouth wide open.

Poster of white-faced “Freak Show” clown.

Now here’s the odd (freaky?)bit, “Side Show” has not been well received and will run only two more weeks on Broadway in New York, at which point the plug will be pulled. American Horror Story,  on the other hand, has been well received by television critics. The repertory cast has been critically acclaimed, particularly Jessica Lange who received the Emmy Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for her performances in the series. The series draws consistently high ratings for the FX network, with its first season being the biggest new cable series of 2011  

   Jessica Lange

Part of the answer may be that there’s a lot going on—character and plot-wise—in “Freak Show” whereas “Side Show” focuses on singing and dancing as musicals do.

Here’s more background info about each show: “Side Show”  and “Freak Show.” If you’re in New York City anytime soon, catch “Side Show” if you can before it closes January 4, 2015. Of course, flip on “Freak Show”on FX before its season is over. Let me know whether you think this “trend” toward exploiting conjoined (once called Siamese) twins is offensive or not. Also, weigh in on the complexity both shows faced: choreographing two actresses in “Side Show” and digitally shooting and manipulating one actress’s image in “Freak Show.”


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