The Imaginary Beasts are back with their annual Winter Panto (through Feb. 4th @ Charlestown Working Theatre). Not to be confused with a pantomime show, the Beastly entertainment is fashioned after the English Panto, a motley mixture of Commedia dell Arte and bawdy British music hall burlesque. This Panto features a nod and a wink to Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.
The Beasts’ imagination is limitless, cobbling together outrageous comedy, popular song, merry dance and more plotlines than you can shake a (slap) stick at. The key for the audience is to play along, to hiss the villain, to boo their shameless puns, to warn the players when a baddie is approaching (the kids love that part)…and to grab onto as many allusions as you can.
Mind you, these references gallop by faster than the brain can locate their origin but you may be able to snag a few TV salutes: “Kawabunga” was Chief Thunder Thud’s war cry on The Howdy Doody Show and “Papa Oooh Mau Mau” [The Bird is the Word] was the famous Ghoul’s siren song. Of course, in the Panto they’re just funny words all by themselves. You may hear a snatch of a tune that signals “The Poseidon Adventure” or a fleeting hint at Jacques Brel with the mention of “Matelot.”
Matthew Woods, The Beasts’ chief cook and bottle washer (and the narrator, to boot) points out that this is their first sci-fi Panto. Since a league is three miles, the Beasts plumb new depths of comedy, a marathon of 60,000 miles to be exact, ending up (or rather down) in the Lost City of Atlantis. I’m afraid the story line jumped ship way before we boarded the Nautalis, but the stock characters are all you need to keep your moorings.
The grand dame is always played by a man and Noah Simes is garishly, marvelously flirtatious as Mlle. Faux Pas, (that is, inexplicably, when he isn’t Raggety Anne). Luckily for mademoiselle, there are plenty of men, including audience members, for her to pursue. One of the cleverest bits is Faux Pas’ water ballet when she lands in the drink.
Michael Underhill as the loquacious, quote-acious copper is always stopping traffic à la Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. The only reference he doesn’t pinch is The Pirates of Penzance’s “Policeman’s Lot.” Kim Klasner is the sweetest of hapless heroes, who only wants to find her little, lost kitty cat, portrayed with a devilish curiosity by Molly Kimmerling. It’s the cat who almost dispatches them all, Trump-style, by pushing the big red nuclear button.
Bob Mussett provides plenty of laughs as the pug nosed, seasick Bowery boy; William Schuller is delightfully dense as the explorer who would be adrift, if not for Jamie Semel as his doughty daughter. Amy Meyer is a ubiquitous double agent and Rebecca Lehrhoff floats effortlessly as a helpful choral nymph.
Jennifer Taschereau first appears as a skipper with a gargantuan beard covering her whole face; then she’s transformed into a gleaming sea creature by Cotton-Minkin’s adorable octopus costume (with its manifolded skirt festooned with pom-poms). It’s Talbot-Minkin’s ingenious creations that make the show!
The most compelling characters, of course, are the bad guys. The point of a panto is to restore “the right, the good, the true” so you know comeuppance is in the mix. Sarah Gazdowicz is a magnificent, lobster clawed “bottom feeder” who plans to scuttle the lot. Alas she can’t succeed, this being a panto whose point is that crime doesn’t pay…but I was rooting for the Lob Lady.
She’s joined on the scoundrel side by a charismatic Kiki Samko as the diabolical Captain Nemo. Samko seemed to channel James Mason from the Hollywood movie… Or maybe I was just punch drunk from the long haul conscription. Their sea battle is spectacular but you’re under water for so long, you risk getting the bends.