Tuesday, January 29, 2019

QUICK TAKE REVIEW by Beverly Creasey Extra Extra Read All About It: IMAGINARY BEASTS BANISH WINTER PAUL BUNYAN visits The Charlestown Working Theater through Feb. 10

The Winter Panto is a seasonal tradition in the U.K. Audiences young and old are regaled by stock characters (representing good and evil) as they banish old man winter (until next year) and welcome in the spring.

The only people having more fun than the performers staging a winter panto on this side of the pond, are the children joining in on the merry mayhem. They don’t have to be asked twice. They happily shout down the villains in Imaginary Beasts’ PAUL BUNYAN (and the winter of the BLUE SNOW), to warn the “good and true” characters of an approaching “baddie.”

The children (and a lot of the parents, as well) boo and hiss and at just the right moment, they offer contrarian advice to a stubborn character who dares to say, “No, I can’t.” The seemingly spontaneous “Oh, yes you can” audience reply goes back and forth until the children can’t laugh anymore. For most of them, I suspect this isn’t their first rodeo.

The Beasts have chosen a bit of Americana to hang this panto on: Paul Bunyan (Kiki Samko) and the famous blue ox, Babe (Colin McIntyre) figure at the center of a wager. King Zero, as in temperature, (company director Matthew Woods) has issued a challenge to an old storyteller, (Dan Prior), who sounds suspiciously like Hal Holbrook/ Mark Twain, although his name would suggest he hails from Oklahoma.

But I digress… and I caught it from the Beasts. There’s a contest afoot and if Oakey loses, winter will never end and the moon (Jemma Tory) will disappear. I’m not 100 % on this but I think that’s Woods’ plot. It really doesn’t matter because the joy of panto rests squarely on the shoulders of the characters.

From wily, ecologically motivated trees (James K. Sims and Kim Klasner) that can outfox any logger… to Amy Meyer’s runaway, tap dancing giant pancake… to Noah Simes’ shamelessly flirtatious “Dame” (fabulous costumes from Cotton Talbot-Minken and Sophia Nora for the flapjack), the premium placed on each and every character is to collect as many laughs as are possible. And, “Oh, yes they can.” Even the puppets get in on the hilarity.

Samko’s sensational Bunyan is aided in this shaggy dog story by a perky, indefatigable Laura Detwiler and a sad sack, self-doubting pup whose fleas even flee from his moaning. He’s portrayed by the incomparable Joey C. Pelletier. The entire kit and caboodle sing and dance selections, for example, from the late Captain and (the still with us) Tennille’s Muskrat Love, all the way up to Rogers and Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone (delivered in high operatic form by Ly Meloccaro in a beard borrowed from James Harden or maybe I’ve been watching too much basketball), just another surprise to another madcap panto.