Stage Presence Enlivens 'Pinocchio'
It's hard to overstate how valuable the Globalstage series of plays is. Besides entertaining and spreading wisdom to kids in a broad age range - they're shooting for ages 7 to 14, but my 4-year-old eats them up - these productions turn them on to the possibilities of a life in the theater.
The British Broadcasting Corp., which does the filming, doesn't just plant a camera in the middle of the audience; it approaches the shoot as it would for a movie - lots of angles and closeups. It would seem that the cameras get in the way of big chunks of the audience, but their loss is certainly our gain. In a scene in Pinocchio, (Globalstage, 94 min., $27) presented by Stage One in Louisville, Ky., the camera even shakes violently after Pinocchio's been swallowed by a huge dogfish, so the scene is actually more effective for us than for the folks right there in the theater.
If you're familiar only with the Disney version of Carlo Collodi's tale, here's the real story:
Geppetto builds the son he never (out of wood) and names him Pinocchio, and the puppet boy immediately confronts the problems of selfishness that flesh-and-blood kids get their whole childhoods to work out. He doesn't want to tell the truth when it would present an inconvenience, he doesn't want to take bitter medicine, he doesn't want to get home on time - and he always gets his comeuppance. Eventually, his irresponsibility lands Geppetto in the belly of the dogfish (believe Pinocchio lost, he'd looked for him everywhere he could think of on land). When Pinocchio finally joins him there, their safety appears to be anything but assured.
The setting for all this moralizing is in the whimsical commedia dell'arte style. The costumes are on the surreal side, the masks all crazily distinct. And the sea is represented by stagewide scrims whose height varies depending on the actors' proximity to the shore.
The acting meanwhile, is rich despite the stereotypical plot. As Pinocchio, Omar Morris is especially good, engaging in all form of self-centeredness without alienating us. At heart, he's the Everyboy, albeit a wooden one.
And that's the only thing about Pinocchio that's wooden. The excitement of the production is so palpable that even career-saddled adults might find themselves considering drama classes. Grade: A
(Note: Globalstage videos cost $22.50 each when yearly subscriptions are bought. Videos are released every other month. Information: 888-324-5623.)
Rocky Mountain News, 8/7/98
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