Reviewed by Marc Wheeler

The beloved children’s classic The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian author Carlo Collodi takes on magical new life in Wood Boy Dog Fish now playing at Bootleg Theater. Written by Chelsea Sutton with Rogue Artists Ensemble, this extraordinary re-visioning takes beautiful shape in the imaginative hands of director Sean T. Cawelti and his grand band of artisans. With adult themes, coarse language and a Tim Burton aesthetic, light Disney-fare this is not.

A RAW EDGY EXPERIENCE…In sharing this century-old tale, Rogue Artists Ensemble reminds us what theater can be when unconventional minds unite.”

Wood Boy Dog Fish follows a wooden puppet who comes to life one night in the workshop of a tormented, lonely wood carver, Geppetto. Brimming with curiosity, he sets out in exploration of Shoreside: a rundown, oceanfront amusement park whose quirky inhabitants speak of the infamous “Dogfish” who, as legend has it, swims the ocean feeding on its victims fears. Misadventures through fame, hedonism and treacherous waters all propel our protagonist towards his heart’s true desire: to be a real boy.

In sharing this century-old tale, Rogue Artists Ensemble reminds us what theater can be when unconventional minds unite. Combining artistic expressions from multiple disciplines, RAE’s self-described “hyper-theater” makes this Pinocchio-reboot a raw, edgy experience.

gia on the move, marc wheeler, theatre reviews
Puppet (Rudy Martinez, with puppeteer Lisa
Dring), Wick (Veronica Mannion), the MC of
Funland (Miles Taber) and Funland Children
(Mark Royston, Stephanie O’Neill and Willem
Long). Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Diving right in: the puppetry. It’s no easy feat to make a lifeless creature the lifeblood of a production, but thanks to a talented design team and three puppeteers working in tandem — one of whom also provides our hero his voice and humanity (Rudy Martinez) — this theatrical device proves eerily powerful. Riveted audiences may find their minds playing tricks (”Wait, did that thing just smirk?!”) while under the spell of such exquisite handiwork. Bright eyes and slight grin radiate our venturer’s childlike wonder, while an iconic pointy nose — growing with each lie he tells — reveals the mischievous fibber we all know and love. In addition to our “got no strings” leading man, marionettes also get featured in a play-within-a-play that’s adorably sweet.

Masks and exaggerated make-up bring a clownish quality to the production, delightfully reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. Dramatic costumes, likewise, add to the visual circus. A coat made of trash, papier-mâché donkeys (in vibrant rainbow, no less) and a Fire Eater ensemble (complete with matchbox shoulder pads and a giant bobble-head) are definite stand-outs.

Original music and sound design elevate the piece — gothic ballads, industrial jazz and an Andrews Sisters holiday house mix all meshing beautifully. Dance sequences are equally fun, with performers gliding around on back-rollers or bootie-bumping blow-up dolls.

Set, lighting and projection design are atmospheric and grim, making for a colorfully bleak seaside amusement park.

And if that wasn’t enough… a 3-D carnival ride at the show’s finale (be sure to wear your 3-D glasses!) is likely to elicit numerous ooh’s and ahh’s.

“Go big or go home!” is surely a driving force of this multifarious production. Yet it’s the story’s heart that brings substance to this must-see spectacle. Like Geppetto it chips… and chips… and chips away… until our inner child’s revealed.