Another Day, Another Destiny: “Winter Panto 2021: The Panto Games”

Tributes in the Arena. Photo credit imaginary beasts.

Presented by imaginary beasts 
Directed by Matthew Woods 
Written by Matthew Woods & Noah Simes 
Costumes: Cotton Talbot-Minkin 
Visual Design & Illustration: Lillian P.H. Kology 
Production Stage Management: Sophia Nora Giordano 
Video Editing & Design: Sophia Nora Giordano 
Technical Direction: Bob Mussett 
Puppet Design & Construction: Sophia Nora Giordano & Jamie Semel 
Cast: Michael Chodos, Laura Detweiler, Molly Kimmerling, Catherine Luciani, Tara Harbert,  Colin McIntire, Amy Meyer, Bob Mussett, Elizabeth Owens, Jill Rogati, Kiki Samko, Jamie  Semel, Noah Simes, Derek Smith, Jennifer Taschereau, and Matthew Woods with Sara Kenney  and Hannah Uher 

March 13, 14, 20 at 4:00 pm ET and March 19 at 7:30 pm ET on Zoom 
New show added! March 21 at 4 pm!
Tickets: imaginarybeasts.eventbrite.com 
All tickets are Pay What You Wish with a $0 minimum
imaginary beasts on Facebook 

Review by Kitty Drexel

ZOOM — The imaginary beasts yearly panto is a Massachusetts theatre institution. It doesn’t feel like wintertime without it! So thank goodness the beasties rallied and produced their February family-show in March. 

Winter Panto 2021: The Panto Games comes to us live over Zoom. This year’s storytime diversion is a parody of The Hunger Games (movies and novels).  The Demon King Discord (is he evil or merely misunderstood?) has manipulated the denizens of popular folklore He commands the citizens of each of three universes send two persons of tribute to play the Panto Games! Representatives of Swan Lake, the spaghetti westerns, and Little Red Ridinghood volunteer to play. The tributes gussy up their best game faces and arrive to connive their best strategies. Songs are sung, monologues are mumbled, but none shall know the outcome until they run The Panto Games! 

Last year, during the run of Hansel & Gretel, imaginary beasts asked its audience to choose the next panto installation. Why choose? Because choosing cuts down exposition. The Panto Games is exposition heavy. All of that explanation leads to joke telling! Every actor has a unique character and every character gets a backstory. It takes nearly half the production to get to the plot of the panto. 

The chat is open to the audience for some good ‘ole audience participation. The Panto Games is performed over Zoom but cameras and mics are kept off. Viewers are encouraged to type into the chat their support (or lack). Since mics are turned off, there’s nothing preventing a viewer from cheering at their screen anyway. That’s what we did. 

One must know before buying a ticket – the plot is never the point of imaginary beasts’ pantos. Plot is hastily tossed into the show only because it’s traditional. The silly puns and jokes are the point. 

The production finally hits its stride when it stops introducing characters and establishes relationships between them instead. Calamity Dame (Michael Chondos) and Annie Oakiedokie (Tara Henry) are adversaries. Their competition motivates them to prove their country prowess.  BB Wolf (Bob Mussett) is a threat to Poppy Blossom’s (Catherine Luciani) life. So he goes about proving his value as a good guy. Caesar Slickerman (Colin McIntire) and Claudius Simplesmith (Derek Smith)… represent the fashionably challenged. Not everyone can have an arc. 

The costumes by Cotton Talbot-Minkin are a revelation. Talkbot-Minikin’s work on these make them a unique character in The Panto Games. The fabric and patterns highlight the design eccentricities inherent in the show. The Swan costume echoes the famous ballet. BB Wolf’s coat has Into the Woods vibes. (Her fashion show on Facebook was grand too.)

The makeup work in this show reaches drag-level commitment. Makeup doesn’t show up on Zoom; it has to be heavy and lighting has to be perfect. In the image below, we can see Mussett’s and Amy Meyer’s makeup show up intentionally but aren’t distracting – vs. Kiki Samko’s which throws sloppy shade at The Black Swan. The makeup in this show hypes the bold, goofy characters without detracting from the actors’ work.

Image from imaginary beasts press email.

The exception is Michael Chodos as Calamity Dame. All of his work is drag-level because Chodos is in drag. The Dame is ready for Snatch Game.  

Families with young kids should note that The Panto Games happily doesn’t include any of the pesky violence of its sources materials: no one dies; everyone learns important lessons; even the “Boo! Hiss! Boos!” are in fun. The jokes, even the deeply subversive ones that open a philosophical dialogue questioning our reality as we know and love it, will appeal to young and old viewers.  

One doesn’t need to read or watch The Hunger Games for The Panto Games to make sense. In fact, almost none of the characters in the originals show up in the Zoom parody. It’s almost better if you only know of the source material through pop culture references. 

We’re in a pandemic; you might as well do the research. Any theatre that encourages reading is good in my book. 

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is well-written. It’s labeled as YA*, and it covers adult themes such as the importance of citizen-led political revolutions against homicidal totalitarian governments, the capitalist enforcement of poverty against minority classes, and, of course, love. The book will appeal to any age that enjoys good storytelling. I enjoyed reading the books when they came out. I would read them again. 

The Hunger Games movies are fun too. Staring a pre-Oscar Jennifer Lawrence, the less-hunky Hemsworth brother, Woody Harrelson as an unlovable drunk, Elizabeth Banks as a walking, talking fashion runway, and -the only kid that didn’t make it into the Twilight movies-Josh Hutcherson, these movies employ attractive movie stars to sorta explain the themes listed above. They’re harmless and fun. 

“Kitty, what about the rubber chicken?” you may ask. Some things must be experienced to fully comprehend. Grab your tickets and discover how the rubber chicken ties it all together.

Rubber chicken: Noted.

The pandemic has already taken so much. I’m so glad that it didn’t steal the panto.

*Young Adult novels are only called YA for marketing purposes. It belittles women’s writing and assumes that adults aren’t interested in the lives and pursuits of young adults.  Read what you want! We’re here to have fun, not to be cool, dammit.

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