Puss in Boots or A Tale of Two Kitties written by Judy Staber and the PantoLoons. Directed by Tom Detwiler
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...shooting deer from a helicopter with Todd Palin."
One thing we have all learned over the past decade is this: Columbia County/Berkshire County audiences love their satire dearly and the sillier it is the better they like it. Therein lies a tale in itself but, therefore, the annual appearance at the Ghent Playhouse of the PantoLoons troupe is now a revered tradition, anticipated for months in advance, often a near sell-out and now and then on a waiting list only basis. This group of gallant players, many in one form of drag or another, fracture the fairy tales beloved by young and old alike adding everything from vague hints to direct hits on the political and social aspects of our world. The things that have an effect on our way of life, our manner of living, are on the list of possible targets for this group.
"Puss in Boots, or A Tale of Two Kitties" is just that kind of show. The greening of the American mode of living, Sarah Palin, Pollution and global warming, Judge Sotomayor, animal rights, real estate developers and Madoff investments are all on the agenda in this yearís show. Song parodies - many will be familiar to some of the audience, some will be familiar to all - give the characters an alternative to the comic, and sometimes romantic, dialogue of the piece. For anyone who has never seen one of these shows, a warning: nothing is what it seems and it is all meant to be fun; if the tenth annual production is not your first, you already know this and my warning is in vain.
Dame Amanda Reckonwith (read these names out loud - sometimes you have to do that twice at least - for the full effect) plays Aunty Dote, the Hudson River fairy. She narrates the show and is a most important character herself motivating with her fairyís magic the action of the play. Ali Katz plays the title character (or half the title characters if you read on into the subtitle). Anita Mandalay-Pronto - one of the few non-cross-dressing actors - plays the young heroine Flora (oh, well, that is sort of cross-dressing after all). Little Ricky Rows Well plays Arabella, the oldest sissle bister - or rather Bissle sister and Shanooka La Treen plays the middle sister Tilly.
The Gentry are played by Jack Stride Rite as Mayor Rich, Nicole Putin as his wife Yolanda and Hunka Burninlov as their son Prospect. Tamara Snotherday ( you have to say that one out loud) is the villainess Pollutia Von Schtunk and her cat, Helixa, is portrayed by Oliver Gaylord Camp.
If there is one character, or character actor, who is funnier than anyone else I couldnít tell you which one. And if I did I would be wrong for every audience and each and every audience member will take one or another and pick him or her out. It will always be different and no one will ever be wrong in their choice for they are all marvelous in their roles. The cast, in real real life are Judy Staber, Paul Murphy, Cathy Lee-Visscher, Rick Rowsell, Ron Harrington, Joanne Maurer, Mark Schane-Lydon, Sally McCarthy, Tom Detwiler and Johnna Murray.
Twenty songs and three instrumental sections - all played by Paul Leyden - keep the show moving musically forward. Some work better than others. One complaint I have had in the past is that the lyric parodies have been too short. Put that concept, along with my criticism, in the past. Staber and company have gotten everything just about right in this new show.
While some of the jokes may seemingly fall flat, they always bounce back up and hit you in the face a moment later. The plot is a conglomeration of Puss in Boots, Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet (on two separate levels). Puss has some difficulty with his rap number, but then he is Spanish, or Latin and itís hard to rap convincingly with an accent and a slight rhythm-challenge. Aunty Dote has fleeting problems with concentration and the two sisters sometimes seem to break one another up. All of this is par for the course in a Panto (short for Pantomime, a British holiday show which is never silent and is always the basis for this local entertainment) and we want it just this way. The informal set pieces are made more delightful by the charming way these players can make a mistake, deal with it and just get back on the road. It's like falling off a horse. You get back on and ride proudly into the sunset.
Joanne Maurerís costumes are a sensation and Rick Rowsellís set is wonderful. Bill Campís lighting is always just right for the moment or the button of the moment.
There is little I look forward to as much as I look forward to the PantoLoons at the Ghent Playhouse the day after Thanksgiving. If they ever give this up I will personally seek each and every one of them out and give them a redoubtable thrashing. But only for the fun of it. And only with a sardonic and sly smile on my lips. And children, players all, I know where you live.
Puss in Boots plays through December 13 with three shows a weekend and an added matinee on November 28. Ticket prices range from $8 for children to $15. For reservations call 518-392-6264.