A jumble of a workshop. Parts, tools, puppets. A wheelbarrow full of wooden limbs. On the wall, a flyer advertising “Geppetto and Donna’s Mythic Puppet Company.”
A solitary man enters; greets the two largest puppets, a male and a female; and proceeds, with evident reluctance, to work.
Unlike the original Geppetto in the novel Pinocchio, our man is a professional puppeteer, though poor. Yet, as our hero (Carlo Adinolfi) struggles to rehearse a new show with his leading puppets enacting the story of Perseus and Andromeda, we learn that something important is missing: the other half of his act. “Donna” from the flyer.
It’s a sad story, this Geppetto, of a childlike man mourning his lost love, his other half. Geppetto works through his grief through play, spinning and improvising stories for his puppets out of myths of a hero and his love, stories in which the puppeteer must, this time, play all the roles, even the “lady parts.” His process is exactly the way children play with toys or dolls, infusing them with personalities and making up adventures and mishaps and solutions on the fly, accompanied by Lewis Flinn’s (Lysistrata Jones) superb music performed by cellist Jeanette Stenson.
One of the show’s pleasures is its depiction of the low-tech underside of the art of puppetry. As easily as he enlivens a wooden figure with personality and feelings by means of a simple turn of its head, Geppetto clamps on a pair of hammers to replace the puppet’s broken legs, then staggers him across the stage to rescue his beloved. But the charm of the story derives less from puppetry per se than from how this particular puppeteer’s whole self is wrapped up in his creations, with so much of that self also absorbed in the almost palpable absence of his own beloved. In spite of an upbeat ending, it’s the savor of mourning and loss that lingers.
“The crucial point about puppets,” the master puppeteer Basil Twist has said, “is that they are real and unreal at the same time.” I think he meant that this is so in a slightly different way with puppets than with theater in general. On the one hand, a puppet, not being a live human being, is a step further from being “real” than is a live actor playing a role. On the other hand, it’s easier to make a fantasy seem real with puppets, since suspending disbelief comes instantly and naturally. The transformational Mr. Adinolfi and his puppets bridge the gap between these two venerable theatrical traditions in an entirely different and indeed more touching way than, say, a show like Avenue Q does with its mix of human and puppet characters. Geppetto is a small, nimble, affecting show well worth a visit by puppet mavens and theater hounds alike. It’s a Concrete Temple Theatre production running at HERE through June 30.