Good Lord, what are they going to do on two show days? Pinocchio (at the Childrens Theatre Company, through Feb 24) is the clutch-poppingest, lustiest, take-it-to-10-and-let-her-rippest, most insanely creative show to come down ye olde pike in a long long time. One imagines the performers, after the show, staggering down to the dressing room and collapsing in a steamy heap. Ice water, give us ice water.
Pinocchio revolves around painting. We first encounter the motif in the lobby (those bespattered stepladders, buckets and drop cloths are, in fact, art). We then proceed into the theater, redolent with the smell of fresh paint and filled with designer Joseph Stanley‘s cunning jumble of ladders, paint chests, scaffolding, pulleys, sawhorses, more drop cloths, etc. The painter/actors, led by the bashful and demure (not) Dean Holt, enter. They wax amazed to see the theater filled with eager play-goers. They examine our tickets (the first instance of the audience participation on which Pinocchio thrives, beautifully). Yes, there’s been no mistake. Well, kids, let’s do Pinocchio!
Do they ever. Speaking in Father Guido Sarducci Italian accents and using props like rollers, empty paint buckets, planks set on sawhorses, with images projected on drop cloths, the painters reenact the hoary story of the wooden puppet fashioned by Geppetto, named Pinocchio, getting himself into various scrapes, skipping school, being cheated of his gold coins, swallowed by ye olde whale, etc., ending with his magical transformation into a “real boy.” The emphasis is less on the story, with which we are all very familiar, than on the endless and energized resourcefulness of the actors.
It’s to director/adapter Greg Banks‘s credit that he doesn’t dwell on painterness any longer than is necessary. Rather than driving a (let’s face it) shallow motif into the theatrical ground, Banks quickly moves us into Jerzy Grotowsky-land – “poor theater” – in which performers make no effort to create a realistic story. Rather, they employ what’s on hand to spin a vivid and affecting yarn. Lovely.
It helps, of course, that Banks has available to him the best and brightest of the MN theatrical community: the restrained and subtle (not) – and pitch-perfect – Holt; the lanky and exuberant Bradley Greenwald (here wearing perfectly askew horn rims); the focused and delightful Maggie Chestovich.
And Elise Langer. I’ve always been a great fan of this performer, but in Pinocchio, as Pinocchio, her unique and sweet presence, her impeccable timing, her sly smile, her small-but-somehow-larger-than-life physicality are showcased to perfection. Herein lies your reason to see the show (not that you need one).
I’ll admit that I, a putative grown-up, was occasionally exhausted and impatient with Pinocchio‘s constant screeching energy. But not the kids; the children in the audience had a marvelous time. And so will you.
For more information about John Olive please visit his website.