[Review] Shockheaded Peter (The Catamounts)

Lance Rasmussen; photo courtesy of The Catamounts

I delight in many types of theater. I’m always down for Shakespeare. I love a lighthearted comedy. I dig a musical. I’ll try just about anything.

But it’s the weird stuff that really gets me going. Not just weird-for-weird’s-sake dada-style nonsense — I still want a well-crafted story. A new story, preferably, or one told in a way I’ve not heard before.

Maybe that’s why it often feels to me that, somehow, Boulder-based theater group The Catamounts creates its shows with me in mind. Their off-kilter, experimental, and immersive shows twisting Greek myths or recasting history lessons or, I don’t know, questioning life and death — they speak to me. They leave me with questions, which I prefer to neat bows. The Catamounts play with staging, with gender stereotypes, with audience expectations. They don’t deal in boring.

Paul Fowler; photo courtesy of The Catamounts

The Catamounts’ newest wild ride is Shockheaded Peter.

“Presented in a multi-generational, immersive performance, Shockheaded Peter is an adaptation of German folk tales about misbehaving children. In our staging of this punk opera adaptation, we’ll examine how terrifying parenting can be, especially when it is hard to let children be their strange, independent selves.”

When they announced they were producing Peter, I yelped. I’ve been a fan of the cultish band The Tiger Lillies for decades (because of course I have). The Tiger Lillies first developed the opera/musical/horror show Shockheaded Peter — get a sense of their style with “The Dreadful Tale of Harriet and the Matches.”

Photo courtesy of The Catamounts

The Catamounts are precisely the right crew to stage this insanity. Their production includes all of their hallmarks: handmade props used in interesting ways (such as an umbrella for a gun, which delighted me), haunting lighting, a bright sense of imagination.

Director Amanda Berg Wilson also has a way of assembling a cast that is all in, as with the Peter ensemble. Possibly the most dedicated of all are the young children in the cast, each of whom plays out one or more of Peter‘s dark cautionary tales. For example, Luca Fowler busts out breakdancing moves as Fidgety Phil, Lily Gruber is a downright devious Harriet (the pint-sized pyro from the song you definitely listened to above), 9-year-old Elias Christol flat-out stares you down as he kicks boxes at you as Cruel Frederick. Every actor, regardless of age, has a great deal of fun with their gruesome material.

The music is a force all its own, with Paul Fowler taking the main vocals in the Tiger Lillies’ customary countertenor. (I so appreciated costume designer Nicole Watts’ choice of blue velvet jumpsuit and beret for Fowler. One needs a bit of glamour in order to tell stories about long-legged scissor men cutting off kids’ thumbs. Alack, alack.)

Photo courtesy of The Catamounts

This immersive production makes use of every inch of the space, and I’m not exaggerating much — it even borrows the very chairs and tables where audience members are sitting. The Catamounts, which often set up shop in the Dairy Arts Center‘s smallest and most versatile theater space, is constantly reimagining ways to use their limited square footage. While I applaud their ingenuity, Dan and I both were relieved that we were never ousted from our seats as many of our fellow theatergoers were. It’s funny how deeply ingrained the concept of “my seat” is — I recommend attendees to any Catamounts show bring only a loose grasp of that notion. 🙂

Shockheaded Peter is the type of show that I would not recommend to just anyone… but to the right person, it’s a drop-everything-and-go situation. If your tastes include cabaret accordion music, Wayne White-style puppetry, and the kind of dark humor only the Germans could dream up, then eat your soup (eat. your. soup!) and get to Shockheaded Peter.

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