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Run for your life from the “Traveling Carnival Freakshow” in L.A.

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theaterIf there were anything enjoyable about TRAVELING CARNIVAL FREAKSHOW, the new production by The Eclectic Company Theatre, it might pass muster as the sort of entertainment that’s so bad it’s almost good.

Sadly, the show offers none of the ironic joys of an Ed Wood movie, AMERICAN IDOL tryouts, or even the intriguingest of train wrecks. Set in a two-bit mobile tent show, this original work, billed both as “A Cabaret,” and as “an amalgam of elements of theatre, dance, burlesque and cabaret,” depending on which promo materials you peruse, tells of circus freak Zada, and a young drifter who instantly falls in love with her. Zada and her co-workers (co-freaks?) are under the spell of the evil Ren, who owns the show, and rules her clan with an iron baton. The premise isn’t uninteresting, though it’s never clear why the drifter, nicely played by Jeff Newman, feels love at first sight for the sideshow headliner whose main handicap seems to be that she has a wooden box on her head. The script also sidesteps the issue of why the mistreated performers and workers (none other of whom have a wooden box on their head) stick around, other than a brief explanation that the retractable dagger brandished by Ren leaves holes in the soul, not the flesh. More perplexing, far more perplexing, are the dances.

It’s not that the action and plot don’t lend themselves to stretches where the story is told through dance – again, the idea isn’t bad – it’s that the dancing is awful. The clunky ballet sequences do provide a break from the mostly atrocious acting, which is a bit like saying “the food was terrible, but at least the service was bad.” Danielle Cintron, as Ren, bellows “lay-tees and gentlemen” at the start of most every line, and then proceeds to give away the next plot point. She is committed to her character, but doesn’t make the supposedly evil character anything other than irritating. Besides Cintron, and the aforementioned Newman, the cast deliver their lines like prepared statements in a hostage tape.

To call the acting high schoolish or community theatresque would be insulting to even the most substandard of those institutions. The production is directed/thrown together by Chelsea Sutton, who also co-authored with Questa Gleason. Lucila Caro’s set is a colorful and effective bright spot, as is Jeff Folschinsy’s sound design. With so little to recommend it, the brief running time is a blessing. At 45 minutes, padded by an unremarkable strip number by a “guest burlesque performer,” it’s a mercifully short ride.

TRAVELING CARNIVAL FREAKSHOW plays Fridays, Saturdays at 9 p.m., Sundays at 8 p.m., through Dec. 19. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, CA. Admission: $15 Reservations: (818) 508-3003 Online ticketing: www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org PHOTO CREDIT: Chelsea Sutton