Move Over Jiminy Cricket . . . Boom, Squish!
REVIEW: WOOD BOY DOG FISH
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Rogue Artists Ensemble’s presentation of Wood Boy Dog Fish is not the familiar 1940s Disney Pinocchio movie, but rather a sublimely dark, freaky and contemporary rendering of Carlo Collodi’s canonic tale. This adult version dares to frighten and haunt audiences taking them down the rabbit hole on a rickety carnival ride that can’t help but amuse. True to Rogue Artists Ensemble’s mission the production is a smorgasbord of multi-disciplinary arts that bring this production to fruition. Wood Boy Dog Fish an immersive work of art that features clever set pieces (Francois-Pierre Couture), artful projections, realistic video design (Dallas Nichols), scene enhancing lighting (Brandon Baruch), fine sound design (Stephen Swift) and a fantastic 3D scene in act two (3D glasses are provided).
Chelsea Sutton’s adaptation of this 19th century tale is appropriately macabre and still manages to surprise audiences in her fresh reimagining. Sutton takes the heart of the story, its essential elements and puts them through a distorted modern lens leaving behind a re-creation that is bewitching and profound. Many elements in Collodi’s original tale are still there but different: the cricket is killed by Pinocchio, the blue fairy is a ghost, Pinocchio remains nameless until the end, and Geppetto is far from a paternal figure. Additionally, the pacing of story favors a piecemeal style rather than what could have been an accelerated plot of a familiar story. The first act in particular is a steady uncoiling of the exposition and character development gradually acquainting the audience with the legend of the Dogfish creature, Pinocchio’s creation, Geppetto’s depression and alcoholism and all the overall character motivations. The roller coaster begins in the second act where the story takes flight and all parts are set in motion for Pinocchio’s death and final rebirth as a real boy.
Director Sean T. Cawelti‘s vision for this work is superb and well crafted. All the theatrical elements fall seamlessly into place creating a world that evokes the directorial styles of Rob Zombie and Tim Burton. With so many talented members of the artistic staff the possibilities become endless. The stage is transformed into an amusement park, a tent puppet show, an ocean and a rollercoaster among other imaginative scenarios. The psychedelic FU-n Land montage scene in act two is particularly dark and funny culminating in Pinocchio and his friend Wick being transformed in to colorful piñata donkeys on stage. The show is chockfull of picturesque moments like this that entertain but also bring audiences to recognize the cautionary elements in this fable. Additionally, the Japanese Bunraku puppet technique used throughout is absolutely stimulating and lifelike—Pinocchio moves about like one of the live actors.
The cast of Wood Boy Dog Fish puts their sweat and tears into to this show—they work harder than any other cast I’ve seen. With a cast that consists of a mixture of film actors and theatrical actors it takes a village to bring a production like this to the stage and make it believable, which is exactly what this group has done. The most notable performances are that of Nina Silver (Blue) and Paul Turbiak (Fire Eater). Silver performance is heartfelt and sincere; she sings the complex songs of Ego Plum with a voice that is appropriately gruff and appealing. Turbiak’s performance demands attention whenever he’s on stage, he’s the showman and the tormentor.
Wood Boy Dog Fish is a hauntingly quirky show that serves to elevate live theatre by offering an immersive sensory live theatre experience while pushing the boundaries of modern story telling. If you think you know the tale of Pinocchio then come see Rogue Artists Ensemble Wood Boy Dog Fish and you’ll be forced to reconsider what you think you know. Wood Boy Dog Fish runs from November 13 through December 12 at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles visit www.bootlegtheater.org for more information and tickets.