The six members of Le Petomane in Match Game.
Le Petomane Comes to An End
By Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
With so many estimable theatre companies operating in Louisville, why does the announcement that Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble is disbanding resonate so much?
I think the answer goes beyond traditional metrics of success and speaks to something more ephemeral about our experience as Le Petomane viewers. They never developed an especially large audience (they could fill The Bard’s Town but probably not the Bomhard) or proved a highly lucrative business venture, but their following was loyal and passionate and I suspect money was never that important to them anyway, at least not where their mission was concerned. Their dedication to the ideal of an intimate comedy ensemble was bolstered by a disciplined artistic integrity that suggestd they would rather play well to five people than play poorly to 500. Add to that that their approach was a unique blend of the low and the high in humor (the name Le Petomane was taken from the celebrated French ‘fartiste’ of the late 18th century, who was the toast of upper crust theatregoers) and you have the unique sensibility that set them apart.
I was not introduced to Le Petomane until 2007, so I, regretfully, missed the first 3 years. By the time I first witnessed their particular brand of theatrical magic, they were capable of ensemble work that proved as tight as a watch spring. The show was Leap, an entirely non-verbal exercise in non-sensical comedy that played like Monty Python with the sound turned down. Only four of the six members were onstage for that show (Gregory Maupin, Abigail Bailey-Maupin, Tony Dingman & Krystie Rolape), but those four bodies gave magnificent reality to the cliché of “well-oiled machine.”
There was also a keen awareness of the history of popular culture that informed all that Le Petomane did. Most overtly in 5 Things, the lost-on-a-desert-island catalogue of that awareness that was this company at their best. For that show there were only three members, but any combination of the six provided the same quality and commitment; perhaps because they were an insular group (there were no guest stars) sharing a highly individual creative process for devising shows nearly from scratch. Their shows were always entirely original (save for the three Shakespeare adaptations), including the composition and playing of almost all of the music.
Every show I witnessed since then only reinforced that original impression of inspired comedy executed with astonishing economy and grace. Among the dozens of fond memories, I might cite these few:
- The sublime pantomime of Abigail Bailey-Maupin’s sweet romance with a mop in No Punchbacks.
- Kyle Ware’s rampaging Santa’s Elf/monster in A Very Special Christmas Special.
- Krystie Rolape’s dizzyingly manic homage to television comediennes in Test Subjects.
- The precisely idiosyncratic movement of Tony Dingman during the John Harrison sequence in Time Flies.
- Gregory Maupin’s Bing-like crooning from the commercial parody, “Shakesepeare for Seniors” in Gladys…of Adventure!
- ’The improbably regal and luminous, blue-fringed flapper girl from Heather Burns in Slant.
They are masters of the subtle gesture as well as the grand flourish, and so many performances could be counted as lessons in craft to the eager audience of peers that were among their most ardent fans. Now they have come to an end, but not a retirement. The members met primarily through the camaraderie of the Kentucky Shakespeare of a decade ago, and this summer will see some of them return under that banner formally. And the last “official” Le Petomane performances will be an August remount of their delightful and deeply satisfying adaptation of As You Like It as a part of the rejuvenated Kentucky Shakespeare’s welcome mat to local theatre groups. So in the end they have come full circle.
Undoubtedly they will remain busy on local stages, and the Maupin’s are, we hope, busy writing a follow-up to their marvelous script for last season’s The Glorious Adventures of The Mighty Robin Hood at StageOne Family Theatre, but for now, we should all mark our calendars for August 5, 7 & 9 and those final Le Petomane bows.