Review: WOOD BOY DOG FISH - A Simply Wonderful Puppetted Multi-Media WOW!

By: Nov. 23, 2015
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WOOD BOY DOG FISH/by Chelsea Sutton/directed Sean T. Cawelti/Bootleg Theater/thru Dec. 12, 2015

In the world premiere of WOOD BOY DOG FISH, playwright Chelsea Sutton has intricately written a very dark re-telling of Pinocchio and his maker Geppetto, fully utilizing the perfect combination of ocean video projections, mood-enhancing music, modular set pieces, fantastic costumes, and most every effective stagecraft trick in theatrical history (both high-tech and low). The synchronized manipulations of the three-person team (outfitted in all black from head to toe) so humanize the yet-to-be-named Puppet, this character of Puppet easily becomes the primary character and focus the audience roots for. Puppet certainly is the heart of WOOD BOY DOG FISH, both figuratively and literally. Kudos to puppeteers Mark Royston, Lisa Dring and especially Rudy Martinez who also voices the innocent puppet for readily allowing the audience to easily establish an emotional attachment to Puppet, quite comparable to the viewers' empathies for the magnificent horse puppets in Royal National Theatre's production of War Horse.

Set in a mythical seaside town complete with the DogFish Adventure ride, The Fire Eater's resident puppet show and a neighboring Funland amusement park, WOOD BOY DOG FISH's most certainly worth the time to visit; but with all the nasty townsfolk, not a place to stay in. "Be careful what you wish for" would be the ongoing theme here. Through the course of WOOD BOY DOG FISH, the incredibly innocent and gullible Puppet gets taken advantage of, bullied, set on fire, hung from the rafters, and turned into a donkey, amongst other non-niceties.

Sean T. Cawelti smoothly directs his talented troupe of eleven with set changes flowing from one to the next, from actual to fantastical, from real to unreal.

The Fire Eater's menacing lackeys Wolf (an intense Willem Long) and Cat (an expressive Stephanie O'Neill) have been sent to Geppetto to purchase three new marionettes to replace the three The Fire Eater's just set on fire. Geppetto, a despondent, depressed lost soul still guilts over not being able to save his love Blue from drowning. In his deeply lubricated state, he creates Puppet who magically comes alive with voice and without the usual strings. This creation scene's like watching a well-crafted magician perform his magic. Just go with it, suspending all disbelief and you'll be in for wild, entertaining ride!

Watching this yet-to-be-named Puppet maneuver onstage, one quickly forgets that three people actually expertly and persuasively operate this inanimate object with the physical moves of a little boy and the youthful, yet logical, incessant questionings.

Ben Messmer, as Geppetto, transitions well from kvetching self-hater to the loving father figure of Puppet. Nina Silver's commandingly solid as the ghost of Blue that can be seen (sometimes) by Geppetto and Puppet.

As the chief villains of WOOD BOY DOG FISH, both Paul Turbiak as The Fire Eater and Miles Taber as MC of Funland deliciously revel in their respective treacheries.

The spirited Veronica Mannion delivers full unadulterated embodiment for her Wick, the only person 'nice' to Puppet. Her wide-eye enthusiasm makes Wick a good match to befriend the naive Puppet.

The puppet and mask designers (Greg Ballora, Cristina Bercowitz, Cawelti, Christine Papalexis, Jack Pullman, Taber and Brian White) deserve all the accolades they duly deserve. Aside from Puppet, others of his ilk abound in the form of crickets, the earlier incarnation of the sea-monster DogFish, and a school of swimming fish. A grown-up DogFish receives scary personification from a threatening Jeremy Charles Hohn.

Much props to props designer Dillon Nelson, especially for his Funland balloon swords, blow-up dolls and pinatas; and to costume designers Kerry Hennessy and Lori Meeker, especially for Wick's unique and colorful collage patchwork coat.

A round of applause to Francois-Pierre Couture's colorful set design with easily moving set pieces, effectually underlit (on purpose) by Brandon Baruch. The boat ride in 3-D's simply hysterical with a miniature ship bobbing in the midst of the flowing fabrics as ocean waves and various sea-monsters coming at the audience.

Sound designer Stephen Swift properly amplifies Adrien Prevost's music and songs which set the moods for appending scenes, much like the opening notes of John Williams "Jaws" score. Dallas Nichols' most complementary video designs include oceanscapes, sea-monster mouth canals, the waters engulfing drowning/sinking characters.

Be open to be amazed, entertained and left in complete wonderment.