Thursday, September 8, 2011

Theatre Review by Keith Waits: Le Petomane's "5 Things" at The Bard's Town

Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble is so unorthodox and singular among Louisville theatre groups that the very expectation of seeing something fresh and unusual threatens to become a detriment. At what point do the patterns of idiosyncrasy become discernable to the regular audience member and begin to undermine the element of surprise?
Image from Akira Kurosawa's film
"The Hidden Fortress"

Le Petomane shows are often such a high-wire act, and their original collaboration, 5 Things is no exception. One half of the troupe complement, Gregory Maupin, Abigail Bailey Maupin, and Kyle Ware, portray “The Three”, who are perhaps stranded on a desert island; the circumstances are never fully explained. The cryptic narrative certainly places them in an isolated location with a mysterious “magic baby pool” that delivers meaningful objects as part of a ritual selection process. Each of “The Three” draws items from the sacred vessel that represent different categories of popular culture: literature, music and cinema. The proverbial five things you would take with you on a deserted island.

The premise is fertile ground for absurdist humor of the highest order; inspired lunacy that explores our modern obsession with the cultural artifacts that definine our existence, e.g. favorite books, DVD’s, CD’s, vinyl records, etc. Much of the time onstage is spent articulating such devotion, sometimes reciting passages from To Kill A Mockingbird, or getting lost in a reverie while listening to Paradise by The Shangri-Las, or a very geeky lecture about how Akira Kurosawa’s great film The Hidden Fortress was the direct inspiration for the original Star Wars.

They also sing and play some of the oddest songs you are likely to encounter, but, although Mr. Maupin and Mr. Ware are capable musicians, the results produce laughter and not a desire to dance.
Dave Davies
The Kinks
Given Le Petomane’s creative process of developing material through improvisation in rehearsal, it is not far-fetched to imagine that no small number of each performers’ own cultural touchstones have been adapted into the proceedings. The Kink’s Preservation: Act 1 and 2 and the inclusion of two Kurosawa films are surely not arbitrary, and when Ms. Maupin marches up to the edge of the stage clutching David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, only to hilariously declare that she has “not read this book…yet!”, the joke seems simultaneously private and a knowing commentary on the secret truth of unread books of recognized importance. 

Such detail and observation is carried along on a wave of well-timed wit and intellectual buffoonery typical of a Le Petomane performance, carefully balancing a celebration of geeky self-absorption with a healthy satirical perspective. Then, as if to answer the question posited at the outset, an unexpectedly tender denouement refreshingly undercuts much of what has gone before. Effectively underplayed, this moment grounds the satire in an appreciation of objects representing more honest human connections. So yes, they can still surprise at least this veteran audience member.

The Bard’s Town, 1801 Bardstown Rd in the Highlands
September 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18

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