Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: LePetomane Theatre Company's "Twelfth Night"

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was built (literally) from the bones of the first building known to have been constructed for the sole purpose of performing plays. That building, constructed by James Burbage and his brother-in-lay, was called The Theatre; the term "theatre" relating to the trestle-built stages erected in the courtyards of English inns where plays were performed by vagabond actors.

Commedia dell'Arte
Stock Characters
The construction of a permanent stage allowed Shakespeare and his contemporaries to create more complex productions filled with all the latest technologies of the day. Technological innovations such as trap doors and a rudimentary "fly" system that moved actors and scenery quickly on and off the stage. The actors themselves, one expects, brought with them to this new venue all the traditions of the traveling player going back through the stock characterizations of Commedie dell'Arte to the Zanies of the Roman theatre.

These are the traditions carried forward by Gregory Maupin and the members of LePetomane Theatre Company in their marvelous production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which opened last night at the Rudyard Kipling (422 W. Oak St.). The production runs through May 22 (see the calendar at for dates and times).

With the luxury of a resident company supported at various times by the Lord Chamberlain, King James I and Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare wrote at least 15 necessary characters into Twelfth Night. This presents a challenge for modern professional companies like Le Petomane, few of which have the resources to mount a production of these proportions. The solutions employed by the troupe of six are among the many reasons you should not miss this production. Using a set of thirteen masks manufactured by the multi-talented Gregory Maupin, and a series of stuffed animals, slippers and a steamer trunk, the players create the play in real time, almost as though they were making it up on the spot.

According to the program this production was directed and designed in ensemble. This is surprising only in that the point of presented is so cohesive that it suggests a single point of view. Like singers each member of the ensemble brings their own unique voice that, when blended in perfect pitch, creates a series of over and undertones that amplifies the individual notes. The whole is a rare and beautiful performance that I urge you not to miss.

Highlights of the evening are too numerous to list here, but look for outstanding performances throughout. Gregory Maupin's Feste/Fabian provides a musical through note that centers the production; Kyle Ware's lovesick Orsinio contrasted with the self love of his Malvolio are nothing short of brilliant; As the protaganist Viola and her brother Sebastian Abagail Bailey Maupin's characterizations are beautifully subtle giving heart to what could have become broad comedy; Kristie Rolape who plays both the haughty and manipulative beauty Olivia and the buffoon Sir Andrew Aguecheek is nothing short of amazing; the same can be said of Heather Burns who gives us the saucy lady-in-waiting Maria and the complex pirate Antonio. Tony Dingman's portrayal of the drunken reprobate Sir Toby Belch and numerous secondary characters who take the stage as bears, moose, and pigs are hilarious.

Finally, another well-deserved thank you to Ken Pyle who has enhanced this community over and over again through his encouragement of small theatre companies, bands, jugglers and whatnots over the years. Be sure to lift a glass or have a meal while you're there to enjoy Le Petomane.

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