Friday, January 22, 2016

Making "Pinocchio" New Again

by John Glore
The tale of Pinocchio, the little puppet who wants to be a real boy, is one of the best-loved stories in children’s literature. It has been the source of numerous adaptations, including Disney’s popular animated film, and its mischievous protagonist has shown up in everything from the Shrek movie franchise to the ABC series, “Once Upon a Time.” Is there any way to make this familiar story new again?

Playwright Greg Banks
You bet! Turn it over to the clowns! Four Clowns, the L.A.-based, internationally known company with whom SCR teamed for our Theatre for Young Audiences production of Robin Hood in 2012, returns to the Argyros Stage to reimagine the adventures of Pinocchio. Using their special brand of physical comedy and creative theatricality, and once again working with an adaptation by Greg Banks (who also wrote the script for Robin Hood), director Jeremy Aluma and his company will employ the simplest of theatrical trappings to take you from Geppetto’s little shop, to a traveling tent show, to the fabulous Playland and even into the belly of a whale before they deliver little Pinocchio to his happy ending.

The story follows the outline of the original Carlo Collodi tale. When Geppetto, an old woodcarver struggling to make a meager life for himself, finds a magical talking piece of wood, he decides to turn it into a puppet boy, so he can finally have a son to call his own. He names the little marionette Pinocchio, and marvels at the boy’s ability to walk, talk and get into trouble without benefit of strings.

Author Carlo Collodi
But Pinocchio isn’t content to be a puppet: he wants to be a real boy (even if he doesn’t have a clue what that means when his adventures begin), and the first step in that process is to go to school and learn what real boys learn. Geppetto sells his own thread-bare coat to buy a schoolbook for Pinocchio and sends him on his way—but as soon as Pinocchio is on his own, he demonstrates that he has a nose for trouble. When he hears music coming from a traveling show, he decides school can wait until tomorrow. He sells his schoolbook to buy a ticket to the “Punch and Judy” puppet show, and before he knows it he has become the show’s star attraction.

From there, Pinocchio, newly enriched by five gold coins given to him by the show man, falls in with a clever Fox and a dim-witted Cat, who pretend to be his friends in order to rob him. They tie up Pinocchio and leave him to die in the frosty night, but the puppet manages to escape that dire fate with the help of a fairy. At first Pinocchio lies to the fairy about how he has got into such a fix, but with each new fib his nose grows longer, and only when Pinocchio finally tells the truth does his nose return to its proper size. The fairy saves him from his plight and warns him to stay on the straight and narrow path from now on.

Needless to say, Pinocchio does no such thing, but each time he strays—whether it’s forgoing school again so he can go to Playland, where his goofing off earns him donkey ears, or getting himself swallowed by the aforementioned whale —he learns a new lesson about what it means to be a well-behaved human boy. And, in the end, that’s exactly what he becomes.

THE CAST: Joe DeSoto, Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman, Kevin Klein and Tyler Bremer
You're in for Some Fun With This Cast

Four Clowns was formed in 2010 by a group of recent graduates of Cal State Long Beach, who continued their study of clowning techniques at The Clown School. Led by artistic director Jeremy Aluma, their first show was called simply Four Clowns, a decidedly adult entertainment that won the Bitter Lemons Award for Most Outrageous Theatre at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. That show also appeared in SCR’s Studio SCR series in early 2012. The company went on to create such shows as Four Clowns: Romeo and Juliet, Sublimity, That Beautiful Laugh and Lunatics & Actors, and soon began touring their work nationally and internationally.

Partly inspired by their experience performing for young audiences in Robin Hood at SCR, Four Clowns added a new programming component called Four Clowns Jr. While remaining mischievous in spirit, Four Clowns Jr. applies the company’s signature style of clowning, dance, music and text to work that is entirely appropriate for kids.

SCR’s production of Pinocchio features five of the Four Clowns. No, that isn’t a misprint: since its small beginnings, the company has grown to number more than a dozen performers who take turns appearing in Four Clowns shows. Tapped for SCR’s production are Kevin Klein (the only one of the five who also appeared in SCR’s Robin Hood), Dave Honigman (who began his study of acting in SCR’s conservatory program), Jennifer Carroll, Joe DeSoto and Tyler Bremer.

With the exception of DeSoto (who only plays Pinocchio), all the actors take on multiple roles. For some characters (such as Fox and Cat), masks are used, while others are suggested by the donning of a simple costume element. Shadow puppetry helps tell parts of the story, and the production includes several songs sung by the company, who accompany themselves on a variety of musical instruments.

While not wanting to give away the fun of this production, we should mention that when you arrive for a performance you may think a terrible mistake has been made. You’ll find the stage full of scaffolding, step ladders and drop cloths, and there won’t be any actors to be found—just a handful of backstage technical workers. They will be as surprised to see you as you are to see them.

But the show must go on. And it will, in the most delightfully imaginative way, as Four Clowns springs into action to tell the story of the puppet who would be a real boy.

Learn more and buy tickets.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to see this show. Four Clowns shows are amazing.