Grins, Giggles, and Guffaws for All

by Annie Sadovsky Koepf

Pinocchio is a fairy tale that children and adults are all very familiar with, so what could be new? Tyler West’s adaptation at Live Theatre Workshop is not only novel, but highly entertaining for all ages. From the very beginning when we are asked, albeit non verbally, to silence our phones, and mind the exits, the audience is drawn into the world of make believe. Under the direction of Angela Horchem, who is also the mask and puppet designer, we are enchanted for an hour that goes by all too quickly.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Hannah Turner as Pinocchio and Lorie Heald as Geppetto. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The masks and puppetry are the highlights of the show. Each one is individually crafted to highlight the person or animal that it embodies.   The puppeteers were visible throughout the production, but this did not distract from their efficacy. The cricket was especially convincing due to the many ways it was able to move, and the apt handling by Lorie Heald, Naima Boushaki, and Kyleigh Sacco. Each handler was able to convey the cricket’s persona in both a lively and entertaining manner. The sounds the cricket made while sleeping had the audience in stitches.

The physical acting used throughout the show comes in as a close second favorite part of this show. Lorie Heald’s background in mime was evident as she portrayed Geppetto, as well as several other characters. Boushaki, Sacco, and Turner all used their bodies skillfully as well, to reveal not only the actions but feelings behind whoever they were embodying. Each character had very specific movements to solidify their individual personalities. The charisma that the actors used was endearing to the entire audience. Director Horchem was successful in relaying the central theme of Pinocchio, “everyone is unique”.

This show uses an entirely female cast to portray all the characters. The director is female as well. Although Geppetto is referred to as male, and Pinocchio as a boy, the use of the clever masks and gender-neutral costumes really don’t make this an issue. It is refreshing to see that gender does not need to be used when casting is done in a play. What matters is the efficacy of the actors breathing life into the roles.

Michael Marinez composed the score, and the catchy tunes added to the light-hearted atmosphere of the show. The lyrics reinforced the themes of honesty, kindness, family, and friendship that this fairy tale uses to teach these universal values.

The set and costumes were minimal but very effective. Fur coats for the cat and fox were a delightful bit of fashion flair. The use of shadow to portray some of the scenes was convincing and added to the humor. A large trunk that was carried on to the set helped to set the stage for a time period in the past.

I don’t know who enjoyed the show more. The children in attendance were enthralled and often squealed with delight. Adults were equally entertained. This performance really is one for children of all ages. 

Pinocchio plays at Live Theater Workshop on Sundays at 12:30 PM through October 20th. Ticket prices are $7 for children and $10 for adults. Tickets are available on the website livetheatreworkshop.org and also by calling the box office at 327-4242. The box office is open Tuesday through Saturday 1:00 – 5:00 PM, and one hour before showtimes.

Send in the Clowns

by Jess Herrera

quirkuscircusThey say the circus arrives without warning, but what happens when the circus blows its top? That’s exactly what happens in Quirkus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster, a new addition to the family series at Live Theatre Workshop.

The show attempts the impossible, seeking to create a storyline that can be enjoyed by the youngest members of the audience while also entertaining adults. And while it has moments of perfectly walking this tightrope, it also comes dangerously close to toppling in others.

In the story, written by local playwright Tyler West and featuring original music by Michael Martinez, we follow the Quirkus Circus troupe as they discover their ringmaster has packed up and headed to join Cirque du Soleil – taking all the animals with him.

A lovable, silent clown named Eddie, played by Stephen Frankenfield, first sets the stage and invites audience participation. He quickly becomes the highlight of the show. Without spoken dialogue, he launches through the rows of audience members to get kids jumping out of their seats just moments after the lights go up. And his impeccable physical comedy quickly wins over even the oldest and most skeptical audience members.

Eddie is joined by the acrobat Margaret, played by Taylor Thomas. Her performance is delightfully earnest without being saccharine. And with a swirl of her sparkling dress, she elicits squeals of excitement from the audience (particularly from my five-year-old daughter, who joined me for the show).

The last members of Quirkus Circus are Natasha and Boris, played by Ericka Quintero Heras and Jon Heras. Unsurprising to anyone who remembers Rocky and Bullwinkle, they’re a married duo whose act is a mix of magic tricks, death defying feats, and a healthy dose of bickering.

Finally, after the revelation that the ringleader is missing, a replacement named Paul is quickly pulled from the audience. Paul is played by William Seidel. He is believably timid and hesitant to join the performance.

Through Margaret’s coaching and Eddie’s encouragement, we follow Paul as he finds his voice as a ringleader and gains confidence to help lead the circus. In the process, we learn an important lesson: You should be willing try things that might be scary because it’s the things that give you butterflies may have the biggest payoff.

The cast of Quikus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The cast of Quikus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Under the direction of Kristian Kissel, the players seamlessly mix their interactions with one another and the audience. The choreography and sets are simple but add just enough flourish to take the audience to the big top.

Unfortunately the musical numbers were a bit unbalanced. The songs were catchy, but the harmonies were occasionally off. The stronger vocals of some cast members overpowered others.

And a few moments that felt as if they were written for the benefit of the adults fell flat. Boris and Natasha, with their borrowed names, needed a stronger storyline. And the depiction of a stereotype was borderline offensive. Their ambiguous accents wavered from a loose Russian to French and even a familiar Sonoran dialect. Their tango number made things even more confusing.

Accents can be very difficult to master, and it’s even harder to emulate characters the audience may be familiar with. I think Boris and Natasha could benefit greatly from a rebranding and a shift away from their ambiguously Russian caricatures.

Despite these few pitfalls, Quirkus Circus is an excellent way to introduce young children to theater. Running at just 45 minutes, it’s participatory, light, and overall highly enjoyable.

Quirkus Circus & the Missing Ringmaster is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays at 12:30pm through June 9. You can buy tickets on their website, http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org/, or by calling the box office at (520) 327-4242.