Review “L’Imbecile” (Babes with Blades): Twisted Gender-Bender Burlesque

The Babes with Blades Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of L’IMBECILE.

The Babes was established to advance female-focused, action-oriented plays on stage.  Almost every Babes’ production I’ve seen has humor infused in the combat.  This time around, the Babes surrender their blades to tackle Commedia dell’arte.   They still showcase a few skirmishes but the physicality is in the slapstick. Commedia dell’arte is a type of Italian vaudeville. Actors are masked in whiteface.  They deliver their line or gesture accentuated by a percussionist sound.

Sarah Scanlon, also providing sound design and music composition, impressively hits her mark everytime.  Scanlon starts the show with a clever violin bit and then remains tucked side stage as the entire percussion section.  She whistles, thumps, clangs or audio blasts whatever sound effect is needed to heighten the humor of the story.

The story is a twisted farce.   Adapter Aaron Adair uses Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto” as the premise for his gender-bender burlesque.  Like many sovereigns, Her Majesty (played by a forceful Maureen Yasko) rules libido first.  The hilariously horny Yasko indiscriminately pursues her insatiable lusts.  Yasko’s over-the-top bawdy is balanced out by the even-keel Kathrynne Wolf (fool).  Their verbal spars are witty tits-for-tat with Wolf shrewdly besting the pasties wearing Queen.  Often speaking directly to the audience, Wolf zings the punchline as an amusing sidebar.  Yasko and Wolf fight with conviction over the adorable Luke Meierdiericks.

Under the direction of Wm. Bullion, this is an ambitious production.  Bullion heaps the shtick pile high.  At first, his three gal chorus amuse with their chowderheaded shenanigans.  After a short while, that buffoonery times three gets old.  It throws the lively show pace off by repeated repetition. There is a reason vaudeville is a sequence of short sketches.  Vaudevillian humor is best actualized in bursts of the unexpected.  Amy Harmon (priestess/gypsy) proves that.

From her first banshee squeal, Harmon is hysterical.  A petite woman and a Babe regular, Harmon is known on stage for her scrappy presence. This time, she goes full-on deadpan moxie with riotous results.  My favorite scene is Harmon mimicking Yasko’s poem.  Pure comedy gold!

L’IMBECILE is a lot to laugh at.  Even though it’s too much of a good thing, it still is a good thing to see.

Running Time:  Two hours and twenty-five minutes includes an intermission

At Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge

Based on Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, “Rigoletto”

Adapted by Aaron Adair

Directed by Wm Bullion

Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm

Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm

Thru May 10th

Buy Tickets at www.babeswithblades.org

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