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Theater Mon Mar 19 2012
Review: The Strange and Terrible True Tale of Pinocchio (the Wooden Boy) as Told by Frankenstein's Monster (the Wretched Creature) @ The Neo-Futurarium
From left to right: Tien Doman, Chris Rickett, Thomas Kelly, Dan Kerr-Hobert; Seated: Guy Massey;
Seated on floor: Robert Fenton; Photo credit: Joe Mazza
Sometimes it takes opposites to tell a story. The Neo-Futurists' original production of The Strange and Terrible True Story of Pinocchio (The Wooden Boy) as Told by Frankenstein's Monster (The Wretched Creature) does exactly that, as Carlo Collodi's original 1883 Italian story is narrated to the audience by Frankenstein's monster (played by Guy Massey) and proceeds to compare the tales of the two created, motherless figures of modern popular mythology. Despite the seemingly arbitrary framing device, Pinocchio/Frankenstein is a brilliant deconstruction of Pinocchio as well as the way fairy tales, children's stories, and cultural icons are depicted.
This, of course, is not the Disney version. Characters act recklessly, lose body parts, and suffer other horrible fates. The world of Pinocchio/Frankenstein is brought to life with a blend of elaborate puppets and comically made props that give a knowing wink to the audience that this is a performance. Throughout the show, Frankenstein's monster interjects with his own color commentary and interacts with the characters as well as the audience.
Robert Fenton was fantastic as Pinocchio, keeping a high-energy boyishness that shifted from adorably charming to irritating and unsympathetic at the drop of a hat. Much of the performance revolves around questioning the idea of Pinocchio being a praised, heroic character in spite of his reckless, selfish behavior, and Fenton did an excellent job of capturing that duality.
A special kudos to Dan Kerr-Hobert for playing double duty -- not only playing multiple characters, including Geppetto, but also serving as the directory of puppetry. The sheer variety and execution of the puppetry throughout the show is truly mind-blowing, along with all the surprising ways the actors engaged with the puppets to tell the story.
Pinocchio/Frankenstein is certainly a dark, intentionally bizzare production, but it's also incredibly funny. Throughout the show, the gags kept coming right when I thought they had run out of tricks. Even the most mundane characters and plot points turned into hilarious gags. The Neo-Futurists are not shy about their acknowledgement of the audience and stage as part of the performance itself (especially during some clever audience participation bits), and perhaps the most interesting moments occur when the two title characters interact with the audience and each other.
There are many themes running throughout, but the ultimate is forgiveness -- what do we do to punish others? How many second chances do we give to people and how do we decide to give those? Pinocchio/Frankenstein is worth seeing for the comedy and the live visual spectacle, but ultimately succeeds as a thought-provoking commentary on why and how we sympathize with individuals, regardless of their behavior.
The Strange and Terrible True Story of Pinocchio (the Wooden Boy) as Told by Frankenstein's Monster (the Wretched Creature) runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm through April 14 at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland; tickets are $20, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. For tickets or information, visit neofuturists.org or call 773-275-5255.