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[whitespace] Side Show Twins Placed in Show: Kristen Behrendt and Debra Wiseman play famous Siamese twin performers the Hilton Sisters in 'Side Show.'

David Allen

'Side Show' reflects society's obsession with our differences

By Anne Gelhaus

ALTHOUGH Side Show ostensibly offers a glimpse into the lives of some celebrated midway attractions, Bill Russell's musical about Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton is more akin to a hall of mirrors than a freak show.

In this fictionalized account of the Hilton twins' career, which took them from the carny to vaudeville to a brief stint in the movies in the 1930s, Russell's humanization of these "freaks of nature" forces audiences to examine why we as a society are in turn fascinated with and repelled by the physically abnormal. By addressing intimate questions we have about these people, Russell presents a compelling argument for turning inward to find the answers within ourselves.

The cast members of TheatreWorks' West Coast premiere production are very effective in their efforts to refract their characters' self-reflection back on the audience. In the hands of Kristen Behrendt and Debra Wiseman, Daisy and Violet come across as eloquent and dignified in their struggle to maintain their individual identities while finding acceptance as the unique singular being they appear to be.

The two actors are also better performers than were the twins they're portraying. Behrendt and Wiseman are well-matched vocally, and Russell uses their duets to contrast the Hilton sisters' lives offstage and on. Just before their vaudeville debut, a kitschy number called "We Share Everything," the pair sings "Leave Me Alone," a thought both funny and poignant in its implausibility. Daisy and Violet must move as one, which they do with amazing grace and poise, particularly in their dance numbers, which are wonderfully choreographed by Bick Goss.

The TheatreWorks company is also adept at acting as a single unit, resulting in some impressive ensemble numbers. And conductor Lita B. Libaek keeps a tight rein on the orchestra, allowing Henry Krieger's score to sparkle as it should.

No matter what the venue, the Hilton twins spend a good portion of their lives on display, and Russell's book touches on some of the more disturbing aspects of their time in the public eye. His frank treatment of the sisters' sex lives, or lack thereof, has the same effect as reading the Starr Report: Curiosity turns to discomfort as the audience becomes privy to more personal details than most people would ever want to know about anyone else. Russell tells us what we think we want to hear in order to prove that we really, really don't.

These disquieting moments--such as the "Tunnel of Love" sequence in which Daisy, Violet and their would-be love interests, Terry and Buddy (A.J. Vincent and Pierce Peter Brandt), each take a ride through their own private hells--also help keep the Hilton twins from becoming martyrs to their condition. The sisters in this Side Show are not freaks but typical young women born into atypical circumstances. It's hard to ignore what sets them apart, but this show makes it equally difficult to ignore what unites them with us.

Side Show plays Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm and Oct. 31 and Nov. 7 at 2pm at the Center for the Performing Arts, Mercy and Castro streets, Mountain View. Tickets are $15-$33. (650/903-6000)

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From the October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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