Even before Geppetto (Carlo Adinolfi) walks into his workshop, the simple set reflects a yearning of years gone past. Its brick walls display lobby cards advertising Geppetto and Donna’s Mythic Puppet Company and its famous performances in classics such as Orpheus and Eurydice and Helen and Menelaus. Only now the puppets hang forlornly on the wall or limply on the table, waiting for their puppetmaster.
Just the presence of Geppetto animates them as he wishes his puppets Buono Sera. Concrete Temple Theatre’s play may focus on the harsh reality of re-building a life after a loved one passes, but it also shows that value in the affection of objects.
Geppetto, a poor Italian immigrant, is rehearsing for a festival—the first one he’ll do after the death of his wife and co-puppeteer. All the old standbys, however, won’t work with just a single participant pulling the strings and manning the sock puppets. Even his hero becomes a double amputee puppet after an accident.
What gives the play its poignancy, though, is Geppetto’s relationship with his wooden and cloth friends. Throughout his railings at God and the anguish of his loss, the puppeteer maintains a sometimes hilarious conversation with his inanimate companions, at one point addressing one puppet, tied in chains for her role in Perseus and Andrometer, with “Jenny, how you suffer for your art.”
Geppetto suffers, too. At one point, he struggles to control seagulls with his head, balmy waves with an apparatus tied to his waist, a sea monster with a flickering tongue with one hand, and Perseus with the other. The show, created by Adinolfi and its director/writer Renee Philippi, (both co-artistic directors of Concrete Temple Theatre), used Pinocchio, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Hugh Herr, a double amputee rock climber, as its inspirations.
Ultimately, the slight story offers no rocks-your-socks-off moments, yet its quiet pull lingers, reminding us of the resiliency of humans. Best of all is the meet-the-puppets segment after the show, where Adinolfi gives a mini-master class on puppetry and the audience gets to become puppeteers for a moment.
Shows are Thursday-Sunday (ending June 30th) at HERE in Soho.
(Press ticket, general seating)