Le Petomane Theatre Ensembleâs âAs You Like Itâ is truly the pinnacle of the companyâs ten years spent perfecting the craft of comedy. As part of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival’s community partner repertory, Le Petomane puts forth a farewell show that demonstrates the cheeky self-awareness and side-splitting performances for which this endearing cast has become known.
Founded in 2004 by Gregory Maupin and Abigail Bailey Maupin, the Louisville-based ensemble expanded to include four additional co-artistic directors â Heather Burns, Tony Dingman, Kristie Rolape and Kyle Ware â after its first season. The artists dedicated themselves to the creation of new theatrical works and the reconsideration of classic works and forms, with the primary goal of making all offerings artistically and economically accessible. Over the last decade, the company created more than 20 original shows, and adapted several Shakespearean classics. This re-imagining of “As You Like It” first ran at the Rudyard Kipling in 2009.
Their interpretation of âAs You Like It,â which closed Saturday evening in the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Central Park, is an ideal example of their work. Set in the 19th century American West, complete with cacti, sheep and saloon piano stylings, the comedy follows the young maiden Rosalind, accompanied by her cousin Celia and the court fool Touchstone, as she flees the persecution of her usurping uncle. They dress in disguise â Rosalind as a young man named Ganymede and Celia as a poor woman â and eventually buy a piece of land in the Forest of Arden, where they come into contact with a bevy of memorable characters, including the melancholy Jaques, the shepherd Silvius, who is helplessly in love with the maiden Phebe (who in turn sets her sights on Ganymede), and Rosalindâs suitor Orlando, who has fled the wrath of his older brother.
Hilarity, hidden identity, repentance and a fair share of wooing ensues, followed by a quadruple wedding, made especially memorable in Le Petomaneâs hands as the six actors play all twenty-some scripted characters by deftly switching between hand-designed, commedia dellâarte-inspired masks and minimal costume changes.
While Le Petomaneâs over-the-top brand of physical comedy isnât exactly known for being subtle, it is in the small, careful touches that the company’s style shines. When Dingman (as the love-sick Orlando) declares his love for Rosalind by hanging sonnets on every tree â well, in this case, cactus â and retracts his finger in pain from the âneedle pricks,â or when Rolape (playing the role of the silly, drawling courtier âMadameâ Le Beau) carries the unconscious body of Charles the Wrestler. While in reality she is only carrying a lightweight mask, Rolape moves as if she is heaving 200 pounds of deadweight down the Central Park amphitheater steps.
Each member of Le Petomane interprets their individual roles with complete commitment in such a way that is both true to the text and, perhaps more importantly, relatable to contemporary audiences. As Rosalind/Ganymede, Burns sways between charming girlishness and a sort of sheepish masculinity. Gregory Maupin finds and subsequently delivers the humor in melodramatic Jaquesâ oft-quoted âall the world is a stageâ monologue. Abigail Bailey Maupin is effervescent as Celia and equally charming as the voice behind the puppet of Adam, Orlandoâs faithful servant. Ware demonstrates his absolute versatility as he plays a total of five roles, ranging from the corrupt Duke Frederick to the simple shepherdess Audrey.
It is obvious that all six actors are involved in the direction of the show. Their cooperation results in delightful on-stage playfulness and chemistry between the performers, as well as the artistic additions that make Le Petomaneâs productions unique â puppetry, original music, clever props. The only complaint one can have with Le Petomaneâs âAs You Like Itâ is that the company is saying farewell just as many are falling in love with them for the first time.