The Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble has been creating and performing original comedies in Louisville for ten years. They open their anniversary season tonight with “Test Subjects,” an original two-person comedy that pays homage to the troupe’s comedy influences.
“Test Subjects” runs through October 6 at The Bard’s Town.
Like all Le Petomane shows, “Test Subjects” started with a title and cast availability. Out of six ensemble members (they all share the artistic director mantle), Kyle Ware and Kristie Rolape were available, so they built the show from the ground up through the group’s highly collaborative devising process.
And like all Le Petomane shows, “Test Subjects” defies description a bit. It’s a vaudeville-influenced social commentary about two clinical experiement guinea pigs. But it's also about over-reliance on technology, while also serving as a celebration of comedy history and a showcase of physical comedy, highlighted with original song and dance numbers. It’s even a murder mystery, somehow.
The show features Rolape and Ware playing versions of themselves who are put through a series of laboratory tests by a mysterious package. Ware says the show evolved to be less about the tests, though, and more about the relationship with the device.
“And is it synonymous with our technical servitude to our devices, like this trusty iPhone I’m talking to you on? Is it obeying my command, or am I just a Pavlovian response away from everytime the bell goes off I have to go and do something?” says Ware.
“So we have an undercurrent that we’re looking at, but also we fall down, and there are goofy jokes,” he adds.
The show explores the roots of American comedy and how those traditions still inform what makes us laugh – ensembles like the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers, which include the straight man, the clown or chaos bringer, and the go-between, in addition to those great duos like George Burns and Gracie Allen.
“We started looking at comedy duos and how that’s evolved throughout the years. A lot of it still works the same way, mechanically. Since we’ve been doing ten years of comedy, it’s been fun to look back at how all of those things evolved,” says Ware.
But that means he and Rolape had to depart from their usual roles within the ensemble for this show. Someone has to be the straight man in a two-person show, Ware says – historically, Harpo has always needed a Groucho to work.
“Kristie and I are typically chaos bringers, in terms of comedy functions,” he says. “So this was a really interesting test for us to flip those roles around, to go into straight man positions. You find out you can’t do a show with just chaos bringers, it doesn’t work.”