Sunday, July 28, 2019

Cloverdale Playhouse: "The True Adventures of Pinocchio"

J. Scott Grinstead, Technical Director at The Cloverdale Playhouse, continues to impress local audiences with his detailed inventive scenic designs, and his abilities as a director. Now at the helm of The True Adventures of Pinocchio, the supporting evidence of his skills is once again on display. -- The show is about to end its two-weekend run, but its effect will surely last.

Not a Disney-animated version of Carlo Collodi's story of the irrepressible title character, this translation/adaptation by Louis Lippa, stays closer to Collodi's series of stories, adds some contemporary references, includes touches of ironic humor, and clearly targets several life lessons that must be learned by the puppet who wants to be a real boy that could benefit all of us.

Played by an ensemble of youth and adult actors, most of whom play numerous roles throughout the two-hour running time, director/scenic designer Grinstead and his remarkable team have created a stunning and surprisingly complex Puppet Theatre stage, scenic artistry [Sarah Kay and crew], a series of delightful puppets [Summerlinn Clark], evocative and character driven costumes [Beth Shephard and her able team], and minutely detailed props [Rita Pearson Daly] that afford the acting ensemble the best of possible worlds in which to bring the story to life.

At the outset, a group of actors escaping conflict at home one Winter, stumble into an abandoned puppet theatre where they meet the Old Man [George Jacobsen]who tells the children the story of Pinocchio [Jason Grinstead], a story "...more than true; it's real...when I tell it, it happens". The adventures both delight and bewilder young Elena [Hannah Worley] and Silvia [Olive Henninger], who question and comment at every turn; much like a Greek Chorus, they serve as the audience's mouthpiece.

The Pinocchio story has been retold so many times, that today's audiences are familiar with many of its facets: the mischievous wooden puppet who comes to life through the carving of a piece of wood by Geppetto [Mr. Jacobsen], and who wants more than anything to become human. But his lies make his nose grow longer, and he gets into so many scrapes on his journey with flim-flam artists, con-men, and  assorted animal creatures, that one wonders if he will ever succeed.

But we are on his side and we too listen to the sage advice of the Talking Cricket [John Sluis]: be honest and generous, obey your parents, reap the benefits of schooling, don't be greedy or fall for get-rich-quick schemes, don't be afraid to be a fool, and most of all care about others.

In an ideal pairing, George Jacobsen and Jason Grinstead carry the play on their capable shoulders. Mr. Jacobsen is an adept storyteller for both the on-stage and off-stage audiences, taking on other roles to complete the Old Man's story; and young Mr. Grinstead's powerful presence as Pinocchio delivers the character's contradictions and genuine ambitions with clear intentions and a strong voice [he is one to watch for future stage work].

There are a number of surprises in store by the end [but no spoilers here]; you'll have to catch the last performance to find out. -- There is a lot of magic on the Cloverdale Playhouse stage.