Cottage Tickled Pink
That’s entertainment, community style
BY WADE CHRISTENSEN
This Cottage Theatre production brings everyone’s favorite pink feline to the stage with quick set changes and hilarity all around.
|Clouseau (Earl Ruttencutter) and Olga (Charlotte Gallagher)|
However, what strikes me most about the The Pink Panther Strikes Again is not what occurs onstage but what happens in the audience. In Howard Hummel’s director’s note, he begins by saying, “a true community theater is a place for all people interested in the arts to come together to work, perform, socialize, make new friends and, at the same time, create a special moment for an audience.” His version of The Pink Panther Strikes Again does just that.
Characters come to the stage with funny accents and absurd costumes. They chase each other and fight in goofily choreographed slapstick comedy — and the audience loves it. The people behind me laugh not only because what occurs onstage is funny but also because they see their family and friends in ways they would never otherwise see them. That’s obvious when gasping chuckles come from the women two rows back before a joke is even underway.
Part of the magic onstage is a result of the same community fervor. Is this the most spectacularly acted show on the planet? No. Is this the most expensively produced Broadway spectacle? Obviously not. Is this a stage filled with actors enjoying themselves? Absolutely. What makes this show so much fun is that the actors are having a blast; they’re fully invested in their characters, hamming it up in front of sets that are equally silly.
For instance, Chief Inspector Clouseau (Earl Ruttencutter) strolls into a room full of henchmen, each one dressed in the stereotypical villain garb. The unsuspecting Clouseau assumes this is a typical dining occasion though the table is clearly labeled for “assassins.” He begins to dance with his less than friendly fellows. Before you know it, one assassin has shot another, one has swallowed a poisoned dart and yet another has stabbed herself. Clouseau assumes they are drunk and walks away unscathed. This scene encapsulates the live action cartoon that is The Pink Panther Strikes Again — ridiculous and packed with physical comedy.
Ruttencutter’s awkward French accent is perfect for the part of Clouseau, making jokes about his mispronunciations even funnier. The haphazard Clouseau has driven his former coworker mad and created the chief evildoer: Dreyfus (Jim Curtiss). Curtiss, also the assistant director, is an audience favorite. His facial twitches and brutish chuckles paint a caricature audiences will associate with Snidely Whiplash or any other animated foul foe.
Other memorable characters include Jarvis (Bob Martindale), Fassbender (David Work) and Olga (Charlotte Gallagher). Martindale has an unusual musical number and a voice to sing it; he almost sounds dubbed. Work plays the straight role and does it well as the genius behind the “doomsday device” he’s forced to employ. Gallagher brings a cute conflicted nature that Olga must have as she battles her love for Clouseau with her duty as an assassin.
The cast is quite large with more than 40 characters, so actors double up to fill the roles. The show also replaces typical stagehands in black with pink panthers that come out for set changes. They often hold backdrops in place for the many short scenes. The culmination of the set comes in Fassbender’s “doomsday device,” an approximately 9-foot, decorated pyramid completed by … well, you should see it for yourself.
Cottage Theatre has done what a community theater should — brought that community together. Children throughout the audience giggle as characters smack their heads on tables. Some give the show a standing ovation. The Pink Panther Strikes Again is definitely worth the watch. Again, this is not the greatest acting feat, but it’s not supposed to be. Come to see a cartoon. Come to see actors enjoy themselves. Come to see why the theater is so much fun.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again runs through Feb. 16. Tix available at www.cottagetheatre.org or 942-8001.