Pantomime, I discovered at the BCA last weekend, is a British, community-theaterish Christmastime sort of theater that channels culturally familiar stories into a very formal struggle of good versus evil…that’s all mostly for the kids. I don’t think I was alone in thinking Pantomime just meant whitefaced mimes for years because, thankfully, Imaginary Beasts took the time to explain the finer points in a prologue to their winter panto, The Half-Baked and Hard to Swallow History of Humpty Dumpty, or, One Egg is Enough. Audience participation is key, and Imaginary Beasts smartly coached us throughout the show in rooting for the good guys and hissing away the bad ones, as well as in the call and response routines particular to this panto. I’m sure they’ve learned over their years doing this on the North Shore, that we probably won’t participate by default, without regular encouragement and reminders. Imaginary Beasts authors and executes a new panto each winter and that’s no small achievement. Their mission is clear and admirable and I wholeheartedly admire them for providing what, for me, amounts to a kind of public service for parents willing to pull their kids away from TV sets.
It would be trivial to dig into the plot, so suffice it to say that this year’s panto is a vaudevillian mashup of Mother Goose stories, fairy tale kingdoms, cross-dressing, wacky props (think giant whoopee cushion), and benign pop culture references. They’ve managed to squeeze a cast of seventeen into the BCA’s Black Box in what amounts to a show that rings pure in spirit and tradition. And because camp is so essential to the community spirit of panto, it would also be trivial to be seriously judgmental over what Imaginary Beasts has done here. As a childless audience member, I felt myself wishing for a little more adult humor designed to fly over the heads of the kids in front. Despite all the references to Old Mother Hubbard’s (Derek Fraser in drag) Fuzzy Wuzzy Pie, I’d consider this a notch below the adult jokes you get in a Pixar movie.
What made the show for me, so much that I can’t help but smile as I write this, was Jill Rogarti’s bizzare, bald-wigged Humpty Dumpty. Hilariously weird, particularly in her courting of Princess Mary Mary (Christina Malanga), Rogarti gives us just the kind of creature we’d expect to hatch from an egg prophesized to end the benevolent reign on Old King Cole (Mikey DiLoreto). Humpty Dumpty is so strange, with his intrinsic literacy of Mother Goose and mischievous superiority, that we don’t even know he’s human until he undergoes a switch from the evil side of things to the good (a significant device of this panto)…where he can help defeat the the embodiment of evil and cold, Old Icicle (Imaginary Beasts’ Artistic Director Matthew Woods), with raspberries and a giant whoopee cushion. Good triumphs over evil, characters find love, order is restored, and a few bad guys find that they make better good guys in the end. It’s a pleasure to see traditional entertainment like this performed and kept alive, and appreciated by kids and adults alike.
Imaginary Beasts’ The Half-Baked and Hard to Swallow History of Humpty Dumpty, or, One Egg is Enough runs through February 4th at the BCA. Tickets $15-20 at bostontheatrescene.com