The Imaginary Beasts are renowned for their delightfully bizarre and totally kid-friendly takes on the historical British panto form. Imagine Italian commedia dell’ arte mashed up with Saturday Night Live’s irreverent brand of comedy (the old, really clever SNL). No stone is left unturned and no turn, as Diana Rigg famously said, is left unstoned.
Matthew Woods and company’s modus operandi is to pile contemporary politics, pop culture and slapstick comedy onto helpless fairy tales, then reap the whirlwind (as in gales of laughter). Even classical ballet makes an appearance from time to time. This year they thrash the alt-right, not to mention trashing plotlines left and right as they meander their way to the focal subject of THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA.
This year, instead of one villain, there is a village full. (The more the merrier, I say.) The nasty queen (Molly Kimmerling) has built a wall around her kingdom, no doubt planning to make her serfs pay for it. She spreads fake news and hangs around with a Nazi storm trooper named “Stompundstammer.” Did I hear someone say “No, he’s not”… Oh, yes, he is. (Not just the kids have a ball playing that game with the indignant Bob Mussett!)
The silly stuff entertains the children and the cheeky stuff keeps the rest of us happy… even nostalgic (when they sang David Bowie’s “If you say run, I’ll run to you”). And when Cameron Cronin’s naughty Nurse Nonny croons “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” even Streisand wouldn’t dare. Joey C. Pelletier’s baddie threatens to melt the polar ice cap while Matthew Woods’ Pirate captain disguised as a pirate captain threatens to demolish any hope of a foreign accent. Mayhem rules.
Fortunately, kindness saves the day. Sarah Gazdowicz minds her peas and queues as well as the underground gap and Amy Meyer brings reason to chaos. Melissa Barker and Alice Rittershaus leap on and off to strains of Les Sylphides, followed closely (and sometimes led) by the most adorable mice ever puppeted. Sarah J. Mann (as the prince) gets his princess (Rebecca Lehrhoff-Joy) now that the pea is at last spoken for.
There’s more shtick from sidekicks Tom Rash and William Schuller and mustache twirling (sans mustache) from Noah Simes, all while James Sims tickles the keyboard and tried to keep a modicum of order on stage… Not possible of course. Cotton Talbot-Minkin again proves she can sew rings around any costumer in town, with Mussett’s extremely loud jodhpurs taking the prize for best pants. (Possibly a new category at the IRNE Awards next year.)