Monday, March 03, 2014

Fresh adaptation of Pinocchio entrances and educates

Pinocchio (photo by Chris Bennion)

Through March 9

A refreshing and enchanting production of Pinocchio is now on stage at Seattle Children’s Theatre. It is a new adaptation of the Carlo Collodi story by Greg Banks of Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Banks did the adaptation of Robin Hood seen at SCT last year, also. He directed this production as well.

In this faux-minimalist production, the play begins with an Italian painter who tells the audience they all need to leave because they will be painting and there is nothing to watch. Then he “realizes” that they all have tickets to a performance of Pinocchio and decides he must call in his fellow painters to try to tell the story as best they can.

The stage is full of scaffolding and ladders and paint cans and drop clothes. The painters have the usual overalls and caps on and the story is then told with rudimentary props standing in for what would be a normal set and props. Of course, it’s all planned, and when an actor has to “fly,” there is a credible rigging system that hoists him up into the air.

Elise Langer plays Pinocchio throughout and Jason Ballweber, Maggie Chestovich, and Doug Neithercott play all the other roles, with Victor Zapanc providing wonderful musical moments. Langer is a fantastic Pinocchio with just the right aspects of puppet-to-human performance and a dead-pan clowning nature that keeps the events lighthearted, even when horrible things are happening. Pinocchio gets his money stolen from him and Gepetto gets swallowed by a whale and then so does Pinocchio, and Langer’s manner keeps it from feeling like a huge tragedy.

The whole production is done in understated clowning. It’s funny but not done for laughs, and the use of whatever is at hand gives it an improvisational air.

If you remember that Pinocchio’s nose grows and you think that the story is mostly about not telling lies, this version focuses on Pinocchio’s deep desire to be a “real boy.” So, finding a way to know how to become real is the heart of this production. Pinocchio makes all kinds of mistakes, even though he is told that he must go to school to become a real boy. The discoveries he makes are the lessons you can take home with your children. There are many discussions to be had about what your child could imagine doing differently than Pinocchio.

CTC and SCT certainly know what they’re doing and this production is highly recommended for everyone from 6 to 86. Even if you don’t need instruction in how to be “real,” you’ll enjoy the sophisticated clowning and the imaginative staging.