I am certain that standing ovations occur every day and night at the Rochester Fringe Festival. But it would be hard to imagine anyone more deserving of that honor than Luke Kempner, the one and only star of "Upside Downton." He got a tremendous response at Kilbourn Hall Friday night from an audience that laughed with the first hint of "Downton Abbey" theme music and didn't stop laughing until the show was over.
Kempner commanded the stage, often playing three, four, or five characters in the same scene. He delivered dialog in drastically different voices — male and female, high and low — without missing a beat. He would also jump instantly into the distinct body language to go with each character's voice. Thomas was constantly polishing something; Mr. Bates was always in a menacing crouch. Aside from perhaps 10 seconds of rest and a sip of water between scenes, Kempner kept up the pace for the entire hour.
There were some cheap scatological jokes, several hints of in-the-closet gay characters, and lots of sexual innuendo, but hey, this is, after all, British humor. If "Downton Abbey" examines life upstairs and downstairs, Kempner adds highbrow and lowbrow to the mix. To Mr. Carson, Thomas, Lady Mary, Mrs. Hughes and the Dowager he adds an automaton Alex Trebek, a dim-witted Kim Kardashian, a foul-mouthed Chef Ramsey, and several other American icons.
Without giving away too much, there are two intersecting plot lines in Kempner's show. The first involves what would surely have been the wedding of the year (1912, as we are constantly reminded). The Dowager is getting married but I won't reveal whom she is marrying. Let's just say he's fodder for a large amount of pop culture humor. The second plot: Downton is in financial ruin and something must be done to save it.
In addition to playing about three-dozen different characters, Kempner wrote the show. As his tangled plot progressed it veered farther and farther into absurd territory. At one point the show quite logically morphed into a musical, allowing Kempner to showcase his West End triple threat side. (Before his "Downton" takedown Kempner performed in shows like "Les MisŽrables," "Avenue Q," and "South Pacific.")
But perhaps the most brilliant part of "Upside Downton" was the way it swung back and forth between an exaggerated version of the PBS series's actual plot and Kempner's meta-Downton, focusing on the plans of the characters to save not Downton Abbey the place, but "Downton Abbey" the show they were part of.
"Upside Downton" will be performed again on Saturday, September 26, in Kilbourn Hall. 8 p.m. $36. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.