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Theater review: 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' at Deaf West

March 3, 2011 |  6:00 pm


Fans of Italo Calvino’s marvelous “Folk Tales” understand that, when it comes to fables, the Italians have a particularly wicked flair.  Full of humor and hedonism, Italian folk tales are a marked contrast to the grim Brothers Grimm, whose penitential parables routinely pitted blameless innocents against monsters, both actual and human.

Look for no blameless moppets in “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” Carlo Collodi’s 1883 folk classic about a naughty puppet who longs to be a real boy.  A far cry from Disney’s sanitized classic,  Collodi’s masterly parable captures the spirit of childhood anarchy as few other works of children's literature have before or since.

Lee Hall’s commedia-inspired adaptation of the book, now playing at Deaf West, is scrupulously faithful to its humorously dark source material.  As in the original, Pinocchio squashes the Talking Cricket, is hanged by the murderous Cat and Fox, and later is thrown into the ocean by a man who wants to flay him for his donkey skin.

In typical Deaf West fashion, the cast is comprised of both deaf and hearing actors, a lively bunch that tackles the play with brio.  Gamine Amber Zion is particularly delightful in the title role.  Excellent design elements, particularly Ann Closs-Farley’s imaginative costumes, create the mood for magic.

In the aggregate, however, the production is a puzzling misfire.  Director Stephen Rothman rightly honors the commedia tradition, but the archetypes seldom spring to full life.  Pacing often plods, and there's an odd dustiness to Rothman's staging, which, no pun intended, seems curiously wooden.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Adventures of Pinocchio,” Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends March 27.  (818) 762-2773.  (866) 954-2986 (video phone), Running time:  2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Matthew Henerson, Amber Zion, Colin O’Brien: Credit: Ed Krieger.