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Heartfelt Monstrous Regiment will put a smile on your face

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The evil Prince Heinrich (Rowan Gallagher, center) is captured by members of the Monstrous Regiment (Jacq Babb, Ali Kidder-Mostrom, Steven Sterne, l-r) — Photo by James Murphy, Trainman Photography
The evil Prince Heinrich (Rowan Gallagher, center) is captured by members of the Monstrous Regiment (Jacq Babb, Ali Kidder-Mostrom, Steven Sterne, l-r) — Photo by James Murphy, Trainman Photography

In a country at war on a world balanced precariously atop four elephants resting on a spacefaring turtle, a small group of misfit soldiers battle impossible odds, institutional incompetence, and irrational gender stereotypes. And one of them's a troll.

If this sounds like a good time, you're in luck. Monstrous Regiment has what you crave.

The delightful production, adapted by playwright Christopher Hainsworth from the beloved Terry Pratchett novel, made its West Coast premiere as Latitude Theatre's stage debut on May 18.

Director Christopher Kidder-Mostrom addressed the crowd before curtain, misty-eyed, to outline the journey of the show. "I hope that I do [the script] justice," he said, "and I hope you enjoy it." And it was indeed very enjoyable.

It's been far too long since I've seen a show where it's clear that the cast is having a good time, but the joy of theater is not lost in Latitude's inaugural production. From scene one, Lola Rei Fukushima sets the tone with their dynamic, expressive portrayal of crafty barmaid turned battalion leader Polly Perks, and not a minute of the performance feels like a slog.

Was Monstrous Regiment's opening night the most polished in the world? No. Some actors slipped up on their lines, the lighting cues in the first scene didn't happen right away, and Lofty — played with enthusiasm by Annabel Klein — occasionally upstaged her castmates by lighting small fires at inopportune times. But there were several moments that genuinely shined, plus a fabulously dressed vampire with a caffeine addiction, so the show's a must-see in my book.

Importantly, it's funny. Pratchett's particular brand of absurd, whimsical satire can be difficult to land, as it's often peppered with pitch-black tragicomedy. The tone can switch at any moment. This cast, however, pulled off the punchlines with aplomb. Ali Kidder-Mostrom's Igor had the audience in stitches. Every moment with the show-stealing Lt. Blouse (Jonathan Swindle) was entertaining, but an early scene where he tells the untrained 10th Regiment that they are going directly to the front lines to die gloriously stands out. Swindle delivers the lines with jovial confidence reminiscent of Monty Python's best and most chaotic work.

Sergeant Jackrum (Steven Sterne, right) prepares the members of the Monstrous Regiment for the realites of war — Photo by James Murphy, Trainman Photography  

The antiwar message is clear throughout, but it doesn't feel like the audience is being beaten over the head with moral platitudes. If you're going to tell the truth, you might as well make 'em laugh, and the entire cast does a splendid job balancing harsh realities with wild humor.

If you are a staunch defender of the gender binary, this show isn't for you. Stay home and think about your choices. If you are someone who gets easily offended or has trouble with subtext, you may find moments that strike you as vaguely problematic or dated. Reactionaries should rest assured, however, that this is an intentional, integral part of the script.

With that said, for gender-diverse theatergoers out there like myself, sometimes the discussion around gender and gender inclusion in Monstrous Regiment, while well-meaning, may feel like it misses the mark. This is largely due to Hainsworth's adaptation and the original material and not the efforts of the cast, many of whom are Nonbinary or gender-nonconforming.

It should be noted that Hainsworth also leaves out large sections of Vietnam War "flashsides," wherein Maladict the vampire experiences war memories from our universe as opposed to their own, which is likely for the best. (Maladict, played by Jacq Babb, is Coffee Queer representation at its finest. Chef's kiss. No notes.)

Polly (Lola Rei Fukushima, center) holds her own sparring against Corporal Strappi (David Elwyn, right) under the watchful eye of Sergeant Jackrum (Steven Sterne, left) — Photo by James Murphy, Trainman Photography  

Lovers of adventure will thrill at the beautifully done fight sequences throughout. The sword work is almost as fantastic as the costumes. (Note that Latitude Theatre also hosts monthly "Monday Night Fights" at the Seattle Center for folks who want to learn a thing or two about stage fighting.)

Leave your pretentions at the door, dear reader. There's no place for them here. Latitude's Monstrous Regiment is art lovingly constructed and executed, and if you can't find joy in that, take the stick out of your ass.

Everyone should be keeping their eye on Latitude Theatre to see what it does next. It is a very welcome addition to Seattle's theater scene, a breath of fresh air. And if this show is any indicator, its next will delight and surprise at every turn.

Monstrous Regiment is showing through June 4 at Taproot Theater's Isaac Studio Theater in Greenwood. More information and tickets can be found at https://www.latitudetheatre.org