Since I was a teenager, I had been drawn to Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). It resonated with me because “freak” was a name that I was quite accustomed to hearing through the halls at school. I was not like everyone else. My peers knew it and I knew it. And it took years for me to embrace that I was different and claim my place among the other “freaks.”
In recent years, there have been some creatives who have tried to revive and reimagine Browning’s masterpiece of a film. American Horror Story writer and director Ryan Murphy attempted to revive the beloved classic in 2014 with Season 4: Freak Show but instead distracted viewers with poorly constructed covers of 90s alternative hits and scenes set up for sheer shock value. But perhaps Freaks was not meant to return to the film scene as stage directors Marlee Delia and Anna Mavromati have proved that this circus act is far more frightening when it is happening right before your eyes.
Presented by Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group and Shine On Collective, One of Us is the kind of stage production that the horror community needs as it is set to be an immersive performance in which the audience is already a part of the show without realizing that the play has begun. The story reads almost like an anthology with the introduction of each freak and an intense ending that brings each one of them together. As the audience gets to know the Woolly Mammoth, the Human Skeleton, Chance the Clown, Abbie the Albino, the Reptile Man, and Alice the Contortionist, it is inevitable to simultaneously sympathize with them and fear them.
Despite minor limitations of makeup effects, the entire cast showed commitment to their respective roles even after the stage was cleared and the play had ended. It was easy to believe that these characters were real people stricken down by the dehumanizing judgments of the general public. Much in the same vein as the 1932 film classic, the freaks in this circus sideshow urge patrons to make a moral choice. Either you are with them or you are dead.
One of Us will continue at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group every Friday and Saturday at 11pm through August 13th. If you are in the Los Angeles area, step right up and reserve your tickets to the freak show!