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Weird rules at Sideshow Of The Damned
By Leatrice Spevack
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Call it Mad Magazine meets Barnum and Bailey on Elm St.


Sideshow Of The Damned, the 2001 SummerWorks schlock-slasher hit remounted last week at the Tim Sims Playhouse at Second City and, running Thursdays through Saturdays to Nov.9, is the stuff from which nightmares are made but nonsense triumphs.


Taking the everyday horrors of religion, adultery and dating, and twisting them into Kafka-esque phantasmagorias populated by such characters as: a mother-to-be who is pregnant with cockroaches and a trio of nuns who pleasure themselves via self-mortification, Sideshow is a deliciously demented romp.


This carnival of the uncommonly common is a creep show of the first order, but with loads of laughs. Written by Eric Woolfe, whose other maniacally macabre creations include The Strange & Eerie Memoirs Of Billy Wuthergloom, Grendelmaus and Pomeranski Rex, is a master of the suburban-gothic genre.


Ghoulish gags tongues ripped out, beheadings, disembowelings, severed limbs are craftily played out with red ribbons, scarves and sheets representing blood. It works.


The show's four vignettes are brilliantly narrated by circus barker Steve Ross, a loathsome freak who talks to us seamlessly through the scene transitions with more than a nod to Shakespeare and Shaw.


If you think Monty Python And The Holy Grail or Life Of Brian were dark and dangerous comedy, Sideshow Of The Damned kicks it up a notch. Richard Alan Campbell, as Dr. Gogol, brings new meaning to the term "bugbear" in his role as the eerie entomologist intent on propagating a master race of cockroaches who turns his larvae-filled turkey baster on a lovely victim (Kimwun Perehinec). Yuck. And yuk.


Rebecca Northan, one of Toronto's top improvisers, is, as always, one to watch.


Fearlessly throwing herself on the altar of odd, Northan becomes everyman's sultry Catholic schoolgirl, amorous nun and adulterous wife, all of whom suffer the slings of sin amid a variety of archetypal bad boys.


Of course, nobody in this house of hysterical horrors can be called "good." In Sideshow Of The Damned, arcane chicanery ensues when the rules of attraction are imposed on a series of both biblical and sitcom-inspired brouhahas.


Jason Charters, as Archy, is the cuckolded husband opting for the quick fix courtesy of an imp in a bottle (and this imp ain't no Barbara Eden) only to realize the wisdom of the words: Careful what you wish for.


It's hard to say whether the gore of a shark attack is more horrific than the Tom Jones song track in this sketch, yet that is precisely the kind of comedic conundrum that makes Sideshow so cunningly clever.


By cartooning the bourgeois conventions of our lives to horrifically hysterical proportions, Sideshow Of The Damned is a satiric keeper.


Jeepers creepers, indeed.