Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Longing Pinocchio (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Live theatre can do things nothing else can, not least bring to life dreams and myth.  I believe it the ideal dramatic form for fantasy, far more than movies or television, no matter how much anyone spends on special effects.

Longing Pinocchio shows exactly what I mean by that.

Based not on the Disney sugar-coated version, but the original 1881 novel by Carlo Collodi, this play turns the story of the puppet who wants to be a real boy into more of an Odyssey in Dreams.  Our framework is a funeral service of Gepetto the woodworker but re-imagined into contemporary times.  Three actors--Valeria Iacompo (who plays the title character), Veronica Nolte, and playwright Eric Paterniani--play all the roles.  Along the way, tiny costume changes and radical physical ones coupled with vivid characterizations help keep us very much aware of what's going on.  Increasingly, the chaotic and often terrifying adventures of Pinocchio become sheathed in shadows.  Appropriate.  For as much as this is an Odyssey of sorts, it is also a Divine Comedy.  Not only a wild, magical world of talking animals, a turquoise fairie, and meetings inside monsters make up this tale.  We also watch a journey through Purgatory, Hell and maybe even a glimpse of Heaven.  At one point we pretty clearly see beyond death itself.

Credit:  Nolte-Slezak

Amidst all this come little speeches by those attending Gepetto's meager funeral, including his Nurse who so loved the wild stories the old man told about his child, some locals who try to use the occasion to sell life insurance, someone who used to lend him money, a ruffian who spied on the man but seemed to like him anyway.  Not just comic relief (not always very comic), these serve as punctuation and reminders.

It ends with an enigma that maybe serves also as an answer, a context with which to see this story, to understand how to feel about it all.  Despite the warning above, I'm not going to spoil those details.  But here is a bit of a clue--every single line means something, and when a line is repeated, it means much more.

Credit:  Nolte-Slezak
Plus, I must applaud the technical and dazzling skill of the cast, bringing to life so much on stage, often in sharp relief, often with very little time.  The face of a real little boy turned into a beast of burden, a wise and good being of vast power and compassion, a terrified old man facing his end, a pair of casually cruel and skilled rascals, plus over a dozen more appeared and lived in that black box theatre that is Zombie Joe's.  Most of all, the awkward and immature child trying to become whatever-it-is they will be.  Together these three performers are called Aliens With Extraordinary Abilities, and personally I eagerly await anything they create in the future!

Longing Pinocchio plays Sundays and Tues at 8:30pm until August 28, 2018 at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd (just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.

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