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Monday, February 13, 2012

New Production from Le Petomane is "A Gleeful Ode" to Song & Fairy Tales


Kristie Rolape and Heather Burns in Once in A Blue Noon. 
Photo courtesy of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble.

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble presents
Once in A Blue Moon
Review by Todd Zeigler

Entire contents copyright © 2012 by Todd Zeigler. All rights reserved.

They’re musicians too!?!

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble has become a favorite in Louisville by mining the long history of performing arts and tossing elements they like into the blender of its collective imagination. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve gone and created a musical – of sorts. Le Petomane’s Once in a Blue Moon is a gleeful ode to the expressive power of song replete with original music accompanied by the familiar Le Petomane magic: masks, movement, dance, actual magic and some knowing winks to the audience.

The story is a basic myth, playing dress-up as a fairy tale, with a little Dr. Seuss laced throughout. Long ago, a mysterious blue coyote from far away hung the moon for all to appreciate. Of course they didn’t appreciate it, so the coyote stole the music of the world. Years later, Princess Ruby was born with the gift – no, compulsion is more accurate – to sing. She is of course forbidden, so she sneaks away to the dark forest one night (see where this is going?) to sing her heart out. The coyote’s compatriots show up, and Ruby’s song is stolen. She must risk great danger to get it back.

Sounds basic enough. Even Ruby’s Fairy Thoughtfather, a country crooner who dispenses evermore nonsensical pearls of wisdom, lays out all the elements directly to the audience of exactly how this will end up. But as anyone who has seen Le Petomane interpret history’s most read playwright knows, the magic is in what they do with the material. This Maupin-less Le Pet quartet is as capable and inventive with instruments as with…well, just about anything else they put their hands on. Musical styles from country ballads to African rhythms to punk rock create and underscore the story. Kyle Ware plays a sweet acoustic guitar and provides some unsettling minimalist distortion for the coyote’s theme. Tony Dingman creates an entire percussion palate with an empty propane tank. (Yes, you read that right.) Dingman, Heather Burns and Kristy Rolape perform an extended polyrhythmic stomp routine that got my head bobbing without me even realizing it.

The company’s acting performances are everything we’ve come to expect: superb in all aspects. As the blue coyote, Burns is a seductive blend of playfulness and danger, the sort of nature god you’d best respect should you encounter it in the moonlit woods. She also shines in comedic turns as Airhead Rocker and Drawly Truck Stop Waitress. I may be relatively new to town, but to my eyes and ears, Kyle Ware is the funniest actor in Louisville. His Fairy Thoughtfather is ridiculously silly while being gently supportive and sweet to Ruby, and his dashing Blue Rogue is Errol Flynn spouting arch couplets. His business with an unwieldy bow staff would’ve been much admired in the silent film era. Dingman is great with broad types, and he capably plays his fair share here: wizened-yet-doddering king, science nerd, and his feature role, a shady fedora-adorned tango expert who works for the coyote. He’s more “Kind of Blue” than “Guys and Dolls,” and his tractor beam gaze does plenty to pull Ruby along her journey to maturity, if you know what I mean. Finally, Kristy Rolape is a delight as Ruby. She finds the perfect balance of wide-eyed innocence and mischief to pull off a child’s role, and her singing voice is lovely.

Something that also deserves mentioning:  the costuming. Each character is imaginatively conceived, vivid and distinct. The coyote’s mask is immediate, alluring and intimidating, though a lot of the latter quality has to do with all that Heather Burns does behind it. Ruby’s gown is an eye-catching combination of colors and properly aesthetically contrasts her to everyone else in this world. Great attention to detail on the designer’s part.

As much as Le Petomane does with Blue Moon, it needs just a bit more work to stand up in their acclaimed repertoire. There are always sight line problems at The Rud, and for the most part they are managed. But more than once I really wanted to see something (particularly Dingman’s propane hand drum – Why have him sit? Build the man a stand!) and couldn’t. Some story elements seem extraneous. As impressive and exciting as it was, the truck stop rhythm fest didn’t seem to advance the story.

There’s also the danger of being too self-aware with your story. Self-awareness is inversely proportional to dramatic tension. Yes, this is a story anyone who has seen The Little Mermaid or even Star Wars knows. But laying it all out at the top hurts your hero’s cause. And announcing that we’re about to start act three kicks the audience’s brains onto the topic of intermissions and bathrooms and away from your tale. (There is no intermission, but no worries – the show clocks in around 75 minutes).

Nonetheless, the show is quite a performance showcase for all this talented group can do, and I certainly hope it’s something they’ll continue developing and bring back. I’m a sucker for a classic story done well, which is very much what Once in a Blue Moon is.

               
Todd Zeigler came to the Kentuckiana area in 2005 with a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. He has been putting it to use covering the local theatrical scene since 2007 while putting that drama minor to use as Associate Director of the Alley Theater, a board member of Louisville Repertory Company, and appearing in various stage and screen projects around town, some of which he writes and directs. Outside the theater, he spends time with his doggie Bradley, his drums, and lovely wife Amy, whom he is grateful is also a theater person and understands (for the most part) why he's always out so late.
 
Once in A Blue Moon
February 10-11, 13, 17-18 @7:30pm

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
At The Rudyard Kipling
422 West Oak Street
Louisville, KY 40203

Tickets: $8-$20 on the usual Le Petomane sliding scale
Contact Us@LePetomane.org or (502)609-2520 for tickets.
For pre-show dinner reservations, call The Rudyard Kipling at (502) 636-1311

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