Award-winning artists’ collective Rogue Artists Ensemble differs from other theater companies in that it’s run by a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers rather than by actors, writers or directors. By combining ancient storytelling techniques (music, dance, masks, puppetry) with modern technology (digital media, special effects and theatrical illusions), the Rogues cultivate a unique style of live performance unlike any other. They define the combined use of these and other underrepresented art forms as Hyper-theater and they do it with great style and great finesse.
The group’s most ambitious project to date (in association with Bootleg Theater) is the world premiere of a modern, mature and delightfully macabre adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” entitled “Wood Boy Dog Fish” at the Bootleg Theater through Dec. 12.
In this new version of the classic tale for adult audiences, the cricket is killed, the blue ghost haunts us all, and the legendary Dogfish monster preys on our greatest fears in the darkest corners of Shoreside, a tumbledown, floating, tourist trap amusement park right out of The Twilight Zone.
Written by Chelsea Sutton, directed by Rogue’s artistic director Sean T. Cawelti, and featuring original music by Ego Plum and Adrien Prévost, the production is a visual feast that combines masks, highly expressive physical performance, dance, interactive sets, multiple puppetry traditions, projected media, and sophisticated special effects and illusions, including 3D enhancement to recreate a scene inside an old carnival ride visible through ChromaDepth® 3D glasses available at each performance.
The highly energetic ensemble cast includes Sam Bianchini, Lisa Dring, Eric Fagundes, Jeremy Hohn, Willem Long, Stephanie O’Neill, Veronica Mannion, Rudy Martinez, Ben Messmer, Mark Royston, Nina Silver, Miles Taber and Paul Turbiak, many of whom play multiple roles.
There is a lot of screaming of lines which can be distracting, but is necessary to be heard over the music and sound effects at many instances. Then again, most of the characters are appropriately evil, so being upset listening to their rants fits right in with their characterizations.
Standout performers include lovely singer Nina Silver who portrays Blue, Gepetto’s former love who visits from beyond the grave to motivate him into creating the most special wooden creation to save his own life. Ben Messmer plays Geppetto, who, in a drunken stupor motivated by heartbreak, creates a punkish version of the wooden puppet without a name, per the demands of the evil Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak).
The puppet is brought to life by three puppeteers (Lisa Dring, Rudy Martinez, Mark Royston), all dressed in black to camouflage themselves as much as possible, which is somewhat difficult in that they are clumped together within inches of each other and the puppet. But given their amazing puppetry skills, it is easy to forget they are even manipulating such an expressive work of wooden artistry.
The Funland MC (Miles Taber) along with his evil cohorts Fox (Stephanie O’Neill) and Cat (Willem Long who bounces around the set making his intentions known without speaking very many words), guide the puppet on his journey instigated by the fun-seeking Wick (Veronica Mannion), who twirls up a storm in a coat of many colors designed by costumers extraordinaire Kerry Hennessey and Lori Meeker.
When the puppet and Wick are turned into donkeys, the updated scene has them become colorful donkey piñatas, which the evil NC proceeds to destroy, throwing the resulting candies into the audience to assist in luring us to his lair.
Kudos to scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture; lighting designer Brandon Baruch; sound designer Steve Swift; with video design by Dallas Nichols; props design by Dillon Nelson; choreography by Nate Hodges; and puppet and mask designs by Greg Ballora, Sean Cawelti, Christine Papalexis, Jack Pullman, Lorne Reitzenstein, Miles Taber and Brian White.
“Wood Boy Dog Fish” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. through Dec. 12. Tickets are $23 when purchased in advance online, and $25 the day of performance and at the door; seniors and students with valid ID are $18 with advance purchase and $20 the day of performance and at the door.
Bootleg Theater is located at 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles. For reservations and information, call 213-596-9468 or visit www.bootlegtheater.org. I suggest arriving early to enjoy adult beverages from the bar, which you can take into the theater to enhance this mind-bending experience.