Entire contents copyright 2011 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

A Very Special Holiday Special, featuring Gregory Maupin
and Tony Dingman. Courtesy of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble. 
Personally, I hate the rush to Christmas that begins before Halloween and practically steamrollers over the humbling nature of Thanksgiving as if they were mere steppingstones to the “Really Important Holiday.” Therefore, I usually endeavor to ignore things that attempt to generate my holiday cheer earlier than the second week in December, summoning a mighty effort to dismiss the onslaught of cheap commercialism that modern society relentlessly imposes on what is supposed to be the most sacred day on the Christian calendar – which means I have to change my route when walking my dog to miss seeing the overly garish yard decorations in the neighborhood.

So a special thanks to the ingenious members of Le Petomane for presenting a holiday extravaganza that is such a healthy dose of vinegar in the season of treacle that I was thrilled to watch a stage filled with Santa’s elves.

It is, in fact, a revival from a few years past, although it was new to me. An inventive and irreverent cross-breeding of a children’s story reminiscent of Rankin-Bass (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without A Santa Claus) with science-fiction movies that featured over-sized, nuclear-enriched monsters rampaging through American cities, it affords us the opportunity to witness several indelible performances from company members that include:

• Kyle Ware’s sharply spastic physical comedy as an elf named Kenny who is struggling to maintain his usual sunny elve’s disposition.

• The nimble run of interchangeable auxiliary characters played by Tony Dingman, all named Henson, who prove useful, if highly disposable, fodder when the action gets tough.

• Heather Burn’s depiction of Mrs. Klaus as a strict, but motherly, CEO of Santa’s Workshop.

• A delightful song and dance from Gregory and Abigail Bailey Maupin that was as sweet as it was satirical.

The musical numbers are especially smart about their lyrics, and by themselves might warrant a second viewing (or a cast album?). Mr. Dingman’s song about being a sacrificial foot soldier is especially observant in its detail, while Ms. Maupin’s patented ability to summon a wealth of artificial satirical charm is never more effective than when she is singing and skipping across the stage in this show. One of her purposes is to provide an object of desire for more than one elf, and she does so with a mid-century style and grace that is one of the hallmarks of this company. So much of their work is informed by a sure understanding of the culture of the past, whether it be channeling Vera-Ellen in White Christmas or paying tribute to the original Star Trek. Sharp eyed audience members will, I think, not miss the latter reference, but I will say no more.

There is even a moment that asks an important question about the ubiquity and redundancy of traditional holiday entertainments, suggesting that if audiences seek the comfort and complacency of the overly-familiar, maybe it is because they are offered little else at year’s end.  Le Petomane may be extremely silly, but they are also very smart.

Yet I am happy to report that this particular holiday offering delivers genuine cleverness and originality in abundance, and despite the commentary, there is no attack on Christmas itself – just a good time to be had by all.

“En Route,” featuring Heather Burns, Kristie Rolape
and Gregory Maupin. Courtesy of
Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble.
As an added treat, the evening begins with a ten-minute short entitled “En Route.” The brief and wordless interaction between three ladies while at least two of them attempt some peaceful bird watching, while a warm-up for the main event, is perhaps an even stronger example of the type of theatre for which, at least in Louisville, Le Petomane has no equal. Bold and expressive masks cover the three performer’s faces, and the costuming is broadly comic; yet the body language and fluid movements vividly communicate character and illustrate a story so simple, yet so full of suggestion; a tidy but brilliant pantomime by Kristie Rolape, Heather Burns and Gregory Maupin.
“En Route” and A Very Special Holiday Special
November 9 – 20, 2011
Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
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 Bard’s Town at (502) 749-5275