Most of us are familiar with Pinocchio and its story of the puppet who becomes a real boy. Taking its name from the woodcarver who created the living marionette, Geppetto tells the tale of a widower who struggles to go on after the unexpected death of his beloved wife and fellow puppeteer.
Concrete Temple Theatre, the company that gave us the acclaimed puppet-theatre amalgamations Bird Machine and The Whale, again trawls classic source material for this new show now playing till the end of June at HERE Arts Center in SoHo. While the aforementioned shows were based on a story by sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick respectively, Geppetto mines the 19th-century children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi that the beloved 1940 Disney film was based on — adding in an ample dose of Greek mythology as well.
Set to the dulcet yet dark music of Lysistrata Jones composer Lewis Flinn as beautifully played live by cellist Jeanette Stenson, Carlo Adinolfi (Concrete Temple Theatre’s artistic director and puppet designer) portrays the mourning puppeteer Geppetto, who heartbreakingly proclaims he can no longer do puppet shows without his spouse.
But for the sake of his art and his audience, he perseveres, putting on a wonderful and playful version of demi-god Perseus saving his future wife Andromeda from Poseidon’s fearsome sea monster. (His sock puppet Kraken is particularly delightful.) Unfortunately, Geppetto finds he is unable to complete the story by himself, as two puppeteers are required.
This realization sends him into a depression spiral that manifests itself in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which he and his wife had performed in the past. His reasoning? Orpheus does practically everything in that particular tale so it will be easier for him to do solo. But like the tragic love story he recreates using evocatively designed male and female puppets, Geppetto is drawn further back into his own grief as his performance only reaffirms the depths of his despair at losing his partner in love and life.
Mr. Adinolfi as Geppetto transfers many of his emotions to the male puppet he commands, having conversations with the marionette as if it were human. When the puppet loses its legs (reminiscent of when Pinocchio’s feet are burned off in the Collodi novel and inspired by the true story of the rock-climbing double-amputee Hugh Herr), Geppetto fashions new ones from hammers and later screwdrivers: puppet prosthetics. But although he can fix his puppet companion, can “G” fix his own broken heart?
In a piece that lasts a little under an hour, Mr. Adinolfi under the direction of Concrete Temple Theatre’s co-artistic director Renee Philippi (who also wrote the text for the show) strains to emotionally connect with the audience when portraying the human Geppetto. His tale of bereavement and woe simply doesn’t hit the emotional chords it wants to, making the show seem a little longer than its 60-minute running time.
Adinolfi’s puppetry, on the other, transcends simple human emotion and stokes the imagination with its art and artistry. Being lifeless doesn’t mean that the puppets are without life. Mr. Adinolfi fills them with feelings that are somehow less effective in his own performance as the puppet master. Ironically, Geppetto would benefit from more puppets and less Geppetto.
Poignant yet funny, with an ending that ultimately says life must go on even in the face of tragedy and adversity, Geppetto is nonetheless worth seeing for its inventive puppetry. Fittingly, the puppets are the stars. And for a show titled after one of the most famous puppet-makers ever, that is more than appropriate.