Fort Worth — No strings on this fun and heart-tugging little show by NYC’s Concrete Temple Theatre. Presented as a lagniappe, a “season extra” from Amphibian Stage Productions (and for this weekend only), Geppetto: Extraordinary Extremities is pleasingly hands-on and homemade theater, with puppets manipulated by rods and toggles and the sheer imagination of master puppeteer Carlo Adinolfi. He’s the show’s puppet and set designer, and the principal actor/puppeteer. Adinolfi, in fact, plays everyone, from the woodcarver Geppetto to some famous couples from the old Greek stories: Perseus and Andromeda, Helen and Menelaus, Orpheus and Eurydice.
Directed by Renee Philippi, who wrote the script in a collaborative effort with Adinolfi (they are co-artistic directors of the company), Geppetto is low-key and simple—trading in mythic themes on an intimate scale. This production is likely to remind theater locals of some of Lake Simons’ work with Hip Pocket Theatre: little puppets, big ideas. And there’s music, too: cellist McCaryn Bougeois is onstage throughout, playing composer Lewis Flinn’s lovely accompaniment.
Geppetto is a story of grief, loss, and soldiering on…with some comedy along the way. In this version, the old gent is a puppet maker but also a showman, one half of “Geppetto and Donna’s Mythic Puppet Company.” But now, Geppetto is suddenly alone. His “Donna” (it translates as “lady” in Italian) has left him, and despite his sadness, their show is headlining at a big festival a few days away—and Geppetto wants the show to go on.
But can he do it all by himself? Geppetto’s “stars” are two wooden puppets, stalwart Omino (“little man”) who exclusively plays heroes, and hapless Jenny, who (see how things work out?) always needs a heroic rescue. Geppetto keeps up a desperate, busy line of Italian-English patter, and creates as he goes: tying ocean waves to his belt, planting seagulls in his hat—anything to keep the story in motion. If one plot leaves him stranded, he picks up another, changing to a different mythic story line. Geppetto’s rough-planked workbench is the stage, turning into a seascape or a vision of hell as the storytelling requires.
The Italian-born Adinolfi’s background as a dancer comes into play as he tangoes his puppet heroine across the stage in one of the show’s best moments. His hero’s and heroine’s hearts, like his own, are often broken—but they dance on. Not everything works; a few stretches of the short, hour-long show drag on a bit. But Geppetto’s improvisations with the puppets—adding new limbs, staging a convenient fainting spell, warbling made-up love songs—are consistently imaginative and amusing.
One myth in particular seems to connect deeply with Geppetto’s sadness: the story of Orpheus trying to bring his love Eurydice back from death and the underworld. It’s a metaphor for Geppetto’s own desire for reunion, clearly. In a poignant, life’s-not-for-sissies moment, he declares that despite the horrors of the underworld, our own “upper world” is only “for those who are brave.”
Adinolfi’s acting has a tentative, in-the-moment feel, as do his words. The script is repetitive and circular but deliberately so, with a spinning-wheels quality that feels familiar to us. It’s akin to the experience of our minds going over and over a bad situation or painful memory. I will, Geppetto says wearily, “go back to the beginning.” But there’s a glimmer of hope; far from being stuck in his stories, Geppetto seems to slowly change with each mythic re-iteration, propelled through his unhappiness toward something better.
Geppetto: Extraordinary Extremities is one of several Concrete Temple productions to tour the U.S. and internationally: The Whale, a one-man version of Moby-Dick, is perhaps the best known. Is this part of Amphibian artistic director Kathleen Culebro’s plan to draw younger audiences? If so, the engaged twenty-something crowd for Geppetto must have made her happy; almost all of them stayed after the show to handle the puppets and ask questions of puppeteer Adinolfi and writer/director Philippi.