Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Alina Mae Wilson 

Geppetto (Ben Messmer) and Puppet (Rudy Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston). Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Geppetto (Ben Messmer) and
Puppet (Rudy Martinez, with
puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston).
Photo by Chelsea Sutton

There is something comforting about knowing you are about to hear a story with magic.  Fairy tales are a huge part of our culture, and some of them are more engrained in the collective Bank of Childhood Memories than others.  This can be attributed to the might of one Walt Disney.  Disney took already famed tales and made them even more mainstream, doing various touch ups here and there on his scripts to make them more appealing in cartoon form.  Pinocchio is one of these stories.  Most people know all about the wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy and his devoted companion Jiminy Cricket.  So it would be nothing short of weird to hear our beloved marionette and his friends curse (as this is an adult production) and make sexual references (again, this is an ADULT PRODUCTION. FOR ADULTS).  Nevertheless this is what happens in Rogue Artists Ensemble’s production of Wood Boy Dog Fish.  Watching Pinocchio get lynched brings about a very distinct feeling of “What on earth? Whose sick idea was this?”  Actually it comes from Italian author Carlo Collodi’s.  Originally written as a serial in 1881 and eventually completed in 1883, Collodi’s  The Adventures of Pinocchio achieved popularity as a children’s novel that was considerably more gruesome than anything Disney was prepared to dish out.  Orange County’s Rogue Artist Ensemble belatedly corrected this mistake, showing the significantly darker Wood Boy Dog Fish at the Bootleg Theater in LA.  This show has much more in common with Collodi’s version of events than Disney’s and, frankly, the macabre is both creative and welcoming.

Lonely, puppet maker Geppetto is a drunk.  Miserable and weak since the passing of his blue-haired beloved, the only happiness he seems interested in pursuing is at the bottom of a bottle.  Little does he know that his deceased girlfriend is constantly watching over him and seems to have invested some of herself into his well-being.  One day, to Gepetto’s utter shock and horror, one of the puppets he has been working on for a vicious employer spontaneously comes to life.  While the puppet begins life relatively amoral and ignorant of how to be someone who is “real,” he quickly sets out to find the answers, meeting both faithful friends and monsters that would take advantage of him along the way.

Blue-1 (1)

http://www.rogueartists.org/

This is one of those cases where there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.  With the audience members rising higher than the actual stage everyone has a perfect view, and the theater is intimate enough that you would be hard pressed to miss anything.

Audience participation has a strong presence without being constant. What particularly springs to mind is a certain audience participation scene involving 3D glasses.  It is not my favorite part of the show, but it adds something special in recounting to us the crazed world our hero finds himself navigating, and I can’t imagine the play without it. With such colorful goofiness thrown into the mix one cannot really call this show frightening, but it is surprising.  The music is dull and fairly forgettable, but –fortunately –it isn’t an impediment to enjoying the overall show.  One of the songs suited the mood of an underwater scene very well, but that was only one song.  Again, the music does not occur often enough for it to be anything more than tedious.

The costumes are good.   Not exactly true to the image of 1800’s Italy, but that’s hardly anyone’s first concern.  I’m talking about the magic —all the strangeness and peculiarities that come with a show like this –that is good.  The actual Pinocchio puppet is spectacular.    In fact, special mention is goes to puppeteers Rudy Martinez (who does the voice), Lisa Dring, and Mark Royston.  They cause us to sympathize completely with this wooden child’s plights, and even when the show was done I just wanted to pick him up and hug him!

Puppet (Rudy Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston), Blue (Nina Silver) and the Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak). Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Puppet (Rudy Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa
Dring and Mark Royston), Blue (Nina Silver)
and the Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak).
Photo by Chelsea Sutton

His hair might have hurt me (but that’s beside the point) though. Large, wooden, and topped with nails for hair, this would-be human starts out as undeniably creepy.  Watching his eerily turning head and jerking feet made me wonder at just how dark this was going to be—are we talking Pinocchio or Chucky?   The creepiness factor is especially valuable in that it enables us to see this frightening new creation through Geppetto’s eyes —seeing something that is potentially harmful. This of course enhances the R-rated feeling Wood Boy Dog Fish brings to the table.   “Pinocchio” is operated not by strings but by three puppeteers attired in black clothing with their faces hidden.  This is not a problem but an enhancement. From beginning to end the focus is entirely on the boy made out of wood.  While he is definitely the most visually enjoyably aspect of the show, Rogue Artists Ensemble gets major points for creativity in other areas as well. The donkeys onstage are done by having actors don piñata heads, and then at other times they use actual piñatas. This brightly colored fest of fun turns to horror when you take the characters’ reactions of pain and fear into account.  I might never look at a donkey piñata the same way again.  The “Fire Eater” has a solid costume as well, with his giant Jack In The Box head proving more intimidating than what is actually underneath.

The story itself is fairly enjoyable.  Some people might be irritated that Blue has gone from helpful fairy to lost romantic interest, but I find it refreshing.  It gives her a sort of characterization and motive that is not present in the original story.  Some people might think her characterization and motives are unnecessary, but in Wood Boy Dog Fish it adds logic to what is otherwise a story about a puppet in Wonderland.   The puppet is fun and engaging; the costumes are weird enough to keep your attention, and the vicious story makes you wonder if there is actually going to be a happy ending.  The music adds some value here and there, and what is unnecessary is over soon enough.  Wood Boy Dog Fish is plainly made with love, and I would recommend it to fairy tale audience fans who love a bit of darkness.

(If you plan on going to this show, buying a ticket from this link helps support and keep the Orange Curtain Review running, Thank you.) 

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November 6 – December 12

My Review
8.3 Overall
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