Puppet banished to IKEA

“Pinocchio” is a delight to watch from start to finish. The latest production by Yale Children’s Theater, it tells the classic tale of Geppetto’s talking boy puppet who wants more than anything to be a real boy. This “Pinocchio” additionally has some new elements that prevent the story from getting or seeming old. From allusions to fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs to some very unexpected plot turns involving the stomach of a whale, “Pinocchio” embraces both its classic and original elements.

From the start, the mood is set by the “scenery,” a backdrop of artistically painted sheets. From the moment they enter the stage, the actors add to this feeling of youthful spontaneity, sporting costumes ranging from an out-of-place mouse suit to an extremely large green wig. If one can even apply theatrical terminology to this play, “Pinocchio” ignores the idea of the fourth wall altogether. The heavy interaction with the audience pulls them into the world of the play both literally and figuratively. In true Yale Children’s Theater tradition, the audience and actors first introduce themselves with a mass shouting of names, and the collective opinion of the audience becomes almost a character itself as the cast calls upon it to help in pivotal moments, such as when Pinocchio wonders what to bring to his teacher on the first day of school… an apple, anyone?

The best part of this lighthearted show is the ensemble cast, each member of which embraces his or her role with a vengeance. Their obvious enjoyment adds immensely to the audience’s enjoyment of the play as a whole. Children will love watching these purposely overacted performances. The wacky and somewhat incompetent villain Larry Huffingpost Wolfington III (Amelie Peisl ’12) and his spastic cat sidekick Bob (Julia Myers ’12), who is perpetually carrying a bag of catnip, or “NIP,” are a dynamic duo, stealing the scene whenever they are onstage. Alana Moreno ’11 is hilariously stereotypical as the clueless and annoyingly-voiced schoolteacher, and Josh Evans ’12 is hysterical in his accented rages as the ambiguously ethnic but ostensibly French baker. Alison Grubbs ’12 is terrific as Dennis, Geppetto’s assistant and everybody’s favorite naughty-and-nice slacker. And the Turquoise Fairy (Melinda Paul ’12) is fun to watch with her magic wand, which children will probably believe is enchanted, as the writer of this article almost did. At the center of the play is of course Pinocchio (Nicole de Paz ’11), who is lovable, funny, charming and perfect as the boy puppet with a compulsive lying problem, growing nose included. But this play truly belongs to the entire cast that continues to amaze each time it bursts into choreographed song and dance, which happens to be very good. Each member of this wonderful ensemble plays his or her part with an enthusiasm that professional actors should strive to attain.

While puppet discrimination issues are addressed slightly in this production, “Pinocchio” avoids getting mired in the potentially darker elements seen in the Disney movie. Conversely, the play is full of pithy adages that parents will love about the wonders of education and the evils of theft and video games, many of which are spoken by a random old man, Old Man Jones (Joie Chen ’11), who happens to wander onstage with a head full of pertinent wisdom for the edification of the youth. Just to give a taste: “Play games today but tomorrow you’ll pay.” And of course at the heart of all these lessons is the biggest precept of all for childhood life: the Golden Rule. But these moments are offset nicely by a dry humor, such as the comment that the evil puppeteer Giovanni will chop Pinocchio up and sell him to IKEA.

“Pinocchio” is a show that knows what it is and isn’t afraid to proclaim it. It doesn’t take itself or its audience too seriously, and, as a result, it is an entertaining break from the harried life of everyday Yale. It is a high-spirited and energetic romp — in the truest sense of the word — that maybe even has the power to convince the less jaded that being good really does pay off.

“Pinocchio” opens today at 4 p.m. in the Dwight Hall Common Room and plays Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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