By CJ Williams
‘Winter Panto 2017 – Princess and the Pea – by Imaginary Beasts; Directed by Matthew Woods; Set and Sound Design by Jason Sherwood and Matthew Woods; Set Construction by Daniel Atchason and Joe Oullette; Puppet Design by Beth Owens and Jill Rogati; Stage Management by Nate Goebel; Costume Design by Cotton Talbot-Minkin; Lighting design by Chris Bocchiaro. Presented by Imaginary Beasts at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116 through February 4.
You don’t have to be a child to enjoy the delightful Winter Pantomime being put on by Imaginary Beasts this chill season – nor do you have to be an adult to giggle at the devilish and timely jabs and jibes the troupe insert regarding current events and personalities. As I sat in the theatre this weekend, surrounded by old, young, and innumerable in-betweens, the slapstick and sly both elicited hearty merriment. Sometimes, the stuff I thought might go over the littler one’s heads got the largest laughs from them in particular. But this is partially because the audience-involved pandemonium was written – and performed – with enough versatility that where subtle politics miss some, there’s enough energy and incongruity to the situations themselves to leave humor a-plenty, references aside.
This year, Imaginary Beasts riffs wildly on the classic tale of The Princess and the Pea. But riff is the key word. Traditional Pea-storyline wraps up the romp, but everything in-between is original – beginning with a poor fairy-in-training’s muddled memory (which provides a chance for the audience to get involved, as on fairy’s cue, “What have I forgotten?” all get to shout, “Mind your Peas!”) The problem is that an evil something-or-other (played by an altogether having-plenty-of-fun Joey Pelletier) has stolen the fairy queen’s wand. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Conflict is a knotty thing, and a ton of fun to knot up double-time when it comes to comedy. From demon-king-robbery-of-wand, to the kingdom ruled by a Queen Clump (whose bombastic personality and yellow hair look suspiciously familiar) – and her hatred of foreigners, things just keep adding up.
In between, it’s not so much the plot details as the execution and hijinks that matter. (Not to say the Panto doesn’t weave a good wild Shakespearean-comedic mix-up of a plot.) The two hours fly by, for big kids and little kids alike. A showtune, freestyling duel between the Prince’s (drag queen) nanny and the demon-king is just one in a series of fortunate and fantastic comedic events.
Through it all, the innovative and imaginative use of stage-craft – including puppetry and lighting – shine, keeping the setting and storyline as grounded as the wild events are flighty. I was especially delighted – as were my 13 year old brother, and the line of 6 through 11 year olds in front of us – with the puppet-mice, voiced by the ensemble, and their two leads, Bubble and Squeak, played by Melissa Barker and Alise Ritterhaus. When it comes right down to it though, it’s hard to pick out one detail on which to focus – so I’ll finish by quoting my brother, who at 13 is no easy audience to please (especially as he’s a budding thespian himself): “I’d say a 9 out of 10. Definitely. And I’d love to play Mop or Moe!”
Hey, if it can get a 13 year old’s approval – and his willingness to participate – this Pantomime clearly has its bases covered. For more info, go to: http://www.imaginarybeasts.org/imaginary_beasts/Now_Playing%21.html