The Puppet Co. at the former Glen Echo Amusement Park is currently performing a puppet version of “Pinocchio” which will please not just children but adults who might otherwise not give a puppet show a second glance.
Following the original story of Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” as well as Walt Disney’s famous animated adaptation, the show features a wooden puppet who fulfills his quest of becoming a real boy by journeying through hardships not entirely divorced from real life. After the carpenter Geppetto makes a wooden puppet he names “Pinocchio,” the blue fairy gives it life. However, the boy cannot become real unless he has experienced life and learns to love.
The growth of Pinocchio’s nose has become a synonym in our culture for lying, so Pinocchio has a long way to go! Like many real boys, the rambunctious Pinocchio rebels against his father and school. Being new to the world, the naïve Pinocchio wanders into trouble with the fox, Mr. Foulfellow. Geppetto, distraught by the disappearance of Pinocchio, travels far by sea to find his puppet/son.
In the Puppet Company’s “Pinocchio,” the magic characters, animals and, of course, the puppets are brought to life by puppets. The two real-life characters are performed by actors who step onto the puppet stage. There is some humor, with an occasional modern reference or when the blue fairy in her charming southern accent complains of “the north wind.”
One of the fun aspects – and one which could even be brought out a little more – is that “Pinocchio” almost seems to reference aspects of its Glen Echo Park location. Idle Island, a veritable Schlaraffenland for lazy people, is an amusement park as in the Disney film, with Ferris wheels, a roller coaster and concessions of pink and purple and white stripes, not unlike the original setting of the once-thriving Glen Echo Amusement Park.
Today, of course, Glen Echo Park is home to – among other things – an aquarium and puppet show, and these, too, has certain reflections in the “Pinocchio” puppet show. When Pinocchio is lost at sea, there is an impressive aquarium-like underwater sequence in which fish swim in schools, a stingray glides by, sea plants sway to imagined water movements, a starfish rests on the ocean floor and even water bubbles are seen rising as if by “the world of magic,” to quote from the show. And just as the Puppet Co. is located at Glen Echo Park, the character Pinocchio is goaded into selling see his school book to visit a puppet show within the story!
Perhaps reflecting changes in Western culture and its attitudes towards childhood, Geppetto, in this version, does not make sharp moral judgments as he does in the original story. For example, in the original tale, he says that though Pinocchio has brought hardship, worry and misery to Geppetto, “bad boys can become good and kind.” Instead, in the current puppet show, Geppetto makes a statement to Pinocchio that in a sense the puppet-boy has been doing the right thing all along: “You must follow your own path and make mistakes and learn from them.” Despite cultural changes in how we perceive children coming to terms with the world, some universal characteristics from the original story remain unchanged.
As puppet master Christopher Piper told the Montgomery Sentinel in a preview article a few weeks ago, Pinocchio’s “sacrificial act to save his father is really the heart of the story. That’s why he becomes human. He also learns that actions have consequences.”
The characters in the fairy tale are voiced well by Piper, Kyle Donovan, Ian McEuen and Karen Shantz. In addition to the smooth and even graceful movements of the puppets (one is a ballerina performing ballet), there are some impressive “extras,” as when the puppet for Pinocchio is shown growing a larger nose after each lie.
Effective props are used in this production, including an exterior to Jeppetto’s house suggestive of the Italian setting of the story. The Carlo Collodi book was adapted for the puppet stage by Leonard Piper. Though there are clear influences of Disney, do not expect to hear Pinocchio burst into song with “I’ve Got No Strings” or Jiminy Cricket sing “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Give a Little Whistle!”
Based on this outstanding production of “Pinocchio” by the Puppet Co., we look forward to its holiday production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” Glen Echo Puppet-Style!
The current charming production of Leonard Piper’s “Pinocchio” can be seen at the Puppet Co. Playhouse at Glen Echo Park at 7300 MacArthur Boulevard in Glen Echo, Maryland, through Nov. 11. For more information, please visit: www.thepuppetco.org.