Pinnochio House Theatre of Chicago

Highly Recommended - NewCity Chicago, Chicago Theater Review, The Fourth Walsh. Recommended - Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Windy City Times, Picture This Post


"...For the first 20 minutes or so, "Pinocchio" is as good as anything House Theatre ever has done... the show, an original in every way, is well worth seeing - Chicago Tribune

Highly Recommended - A marvelous and magical world-premiere production.. Broadway may have "King Kong," but that ape puppet's got nothing on the wooden boy who'll steal your heart. - NewCity Chicago

Tickets $30-50. Through May 19th. More info: 773-769.3832

03/28/19 - 05/19/19

'Pinocchio' by House Theatre has moments of greatness and the best puppet in town, Chris Jones Chicago Tribune - "Best puppet of the season? "King Kong" on Broadway. Height: 20 feet. Weight: 2,000 pounds. Style: Animatronic ape. Puppeteers: 14. Microprocessors: 16. Designer: Sonny Tilders. Cost: Good chunk of production budget of $35 million.

Second best puppet of the season? "Pinocchio" at the Chopin Theatre. Height: 3 feet. Weight: Not much. Style: Bunraku. Puppeteers: 1, with a little bit of help. Microprocessors: Zero. Designer: Tom Lee for House Theatre. Cost: Small chunk of production budget of $110,000.

And, you know, when it comes to theatrical efficacy and moving an audience - which are one and the same thing - it was a very close call. And the ape didn't even have a retractable sniffer.

Pinocchio, the adolescent boy with the helpful, tell-all nose, is the great-looking star of the latest production by the House Theatre, an adaptation "inspired" by the work of Carlo Collodi, as written by Joey Steakley and Ben Lobpries. Aimed at adults and older kids, this Pinocchio is set in a dystopian, seemingly fascist world. It's pitched as a cautionary tale about what can happen when well-meaning but scared parents try to exert too much control over their naturally rebellious offspring.

The famous nose - despite being a tempting metaphor for our times - actually plays second fiddle to the ideas about protection versus freedom, caution as opposed to risk-taking and, when the times are out of whack, the necessity of rebellion.

For the first 20 minutes or so, "Pinocchio" is as good as anything House Theatre ever has done. That's mostly down to the terrific scenes between Molly Brennan, who plays the dad Geppetto, and Sean Garratt, the puppeteer manipulating the titular character, truly a gorgeous presence. In all of its best shows, House has created these moving, richly wrought relationships and this is one of their great ones. A lot of that has to do with old-fashioned vulnerability - on the part of both Brennan and Garratt, a very fine puppeteer. You feel like both love and fear are in the room and, as any parent or child well knows, their co-existence is usually a constant.

I wish the piece could have stayed with that level of emotional engagement, but it struggles to maintain so believable a tone once Pinocchio ventures out into the world. The problem there is the temptation for overdoing the show's antagonists, none of whom are so pleasant, and thus the piece becomes shrill and too obvious. To put that another way, we start with the rich complexities of life and then we move more into familiar binaries.

There is, though, a meaningful recovery. You'll likely be moved by the actor Brandon Rivera, who continues the relationship set in motion by Brennan, and by Karissa Murrell Myers, who adds a mystical, musical touch to the storytelling, even if she needs to focus more directly on the audience's feelings.

Overall, the show, an original in every way, is well worth seeing: the creation of the puppet himself is quite beautifully wrought, and it will put you in mind of the way our children come into this world, and then need to leave us behind and make things better for themselves.



Highly Recommended - All that Glitters is Wood: A Review of Pinocchio at the House Theatre of Chicago Ben Kay NewCity Chicago - For those curious to see what would happen if "Shrek" were directed by Hayao Miyazaki, The House Theatre's production of "Pinocchio" might be the next best thing. A marvelous and magical world-premiere production that's intermittently too self-aware for its own good, the world-famous wooden boy (originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi) is brought to life here by the brilliant craftwork of Chicago Puppet Studios, while puppeteered and voiced by the masterful Sean Garratt. Broadway may have "King Kong," but that ape puppet's got nothing on the wooden boy who'll steal your heart.

Rather than the traditional Pinocchio narrative (sorry, Disney fans, Jiminy Cricket's just a chirping cricket named "Mr. Cricket" here), playwrights Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries have created a Pinocchio suited to the Discourse of 2019 America, crafting a story that battles prejudice towards others, anti-intellectualism, and the destruction of nature and the things we don't understand.

Pinocchio, as precocious as ever, is our analogue for "The Other": the creature made from a tree in the forest that the townspeople refuse to try to understand. His friendship with a local schoolboy, Romeo (Brandon Rivera), is his attempt to show the world that humanity and nature can live together in peace, but the close-minded townspeople are having none of it. Scenes that highlight the beauty of nature, the sincerity of friendship and the complexities of building a chosen family make this "Pinocchio" a worthwhile journey altogether.

Which makes it all the more frustrating when these moments reside concurrently with jokes verging on snark, which otherwise undermine the sincerity we've witnessed up to this point. A show like "Pinocchio" is, of course, ripe for comedy, but too many of these moments-rather than stemming from character and circumstance-exist to circumvent the play in a highly self-referential manner.

Don't get me wrong: self-referential humor can be a terrific comedic tool, but it's a tricky road to travel. Calling attention to the notion that we're watching a fake story while simultaneously working to emotionally connect us with the inhabitants of said fake story, while not an impossible task, requires building a theatrical language from the get-go to let the audience know how the act of storytelling will function. That's a rule-breaking, theatrical high-wire act that the production (otherwise charmingly directed by Chris Mathews) isn't always able to traverse.

But the actors are expert storytellers all around: Molly Brennan's emotionally complex Geppetto; Kevin Stangler's perpetually promoted town official; Christine Mayland Perkins' teacher-with-a-secret; Karissa Murrell Myers' Galadriel-esque Blue Fairy; Omer Abbas Salem and Carley Cornelius as a pair of hilariously no-good school bullies; the raucous onstage musical stylings of Mike Mazzocca and Tina Muñoz Pandya.

And of course there's Sean Garratt as the wooden boy, in a marvelous performance that grips you from the first moments he arrives onstage in a stunning, practically wordless introductory sequence, scored by the emotionally resonant music of Matthew Muñiz. We see Geppetto teaching Pinocchio to walk, to read and to truly live in his new form. It's a joyful, hilarious, and all-too-charming sequence filled with unlimited doses of theatrical magic. All heart and full sincerity, where this show truly comes to life".



Highly Recommended No Strings Attached - Colin Hayes, - "Although there have been many versions and incarnations of Carlo Collodi's 1883 children's novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio, probably the most familiar is the groundbreaking 1940 animated version by the Walt Disney Studios. Because of this full-length cartoon, everyone's pretty familiar with the story. They know about the lonely woodcarver named Geppetto who creates a little wooden puppet who eventually becomes a real boy. Audiences remember Jiminy Cricket, the cunning Fox and Cat, the evil puppeteer Stromboli, Lampwick, Pleasure Island and Monstro the whale. And, of course, they remember the beautiful Blue Fairy and how "When You Wish Upon a Star" made everything end happily ever after.

Well, forget most of that, and be open to an entirely new take on the classic fairytale about the marionette that can move without strings. This new version of the story is a "Pinocchio" for today, although the look of the show is decidedly mid-twentieth century. Adapted for the stage by longtime House Theatre company members Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries, and brought to brilliant life by company member Chris Matthews, this world premiere is an interestingly crafted tale about the power of truth.

The play is also liberally seasoned with some not-so subtle allusions to the current climate of hatred and distrust that's permeating our country. A constant wave of lies, suspicion and sheer nastiness that has pervaded our nation since the 2016 election haunts this story. This is especially evident in the way some of the characters deal with people whom they determine are different from them.

Geppetto is a clever craftsman who fashions dolls and toys out of wood. Usually reluctant to leave his shop, he's discovered just returning from a trip to the forest when the play opens. He's brought back an interesting-looking log. When the wooden stump begins making sounds, Geppetto starts chiseling away at the bark. Suddenly, a face appears that speaks to the woodcarver, as he continues creating the magical marionette. Geppetto names his puppet Pinocchio, a name that many of the townsfolk seem to have trouble remembering or pronouncing.

Especially guarded with the other villagers, Geppetto warns Pinocchio not to leave the shop, or even open the curtains, whenever the woodcarver is out. Assisted by his friend Cricket, Pinocchio spends his time devouring all of Geppetto's books. After he's read everything on the bookshelves, the curious little boy decides he wants to experience the exciting real world outside of the shop. He disobeys Geppetto and heads out the window. Once in the village, Pinocchio tries to join the other children at school, only to be humiliated by the teacher, Miss Penny, and savagely bullied by most of the students. One little boy named Romeo, however, refuses to join the other ruffians.

When Geppetto discovers that the enchanted puppet is missing, he goes in search of him, fearing the worst. Pinocchio's adventures eventually lead him back to, what he thinks will be, the safety of the forest. He's accompanied by his two friends, Cricket and Romeo. There he meets the Blue Fairy, the Guardian of the Woods, who offers the youngster some wisdom that Pinocchio hadn't found in books.

Geppetto finally catches up with Pinocchio, just as the townsfolk appear. But Officer Doohickey, in true Trumpian style, has been swiftly promoted from a lowly constable to an all-powerful judge. He holds an impromptu trial, during which Pinocchio is proclaimed guilty of being a threat to the community because he's different than everyone. The puppet and Geppetto are then strung up and sacrificed to a giant, hungry sea monster. The final scene of this two-hour play resolves many, if not all, of the problems. Cricket goes off to live with the Blue Fairy. Pinocchio's nose continues to mysteriously grow, although the reason for this is never explained. The puppet doesn't magically turn into a real, live boy, and yet the story's conclusion is promising and pleasant for all the characters.

The standouts of this cast are Sean Garratt, an affable UK born artist, who gives voice and movement to the child-size Pinocchio. Tom Lee, of Chicago Puppet Studios, is credited with creating the commanding and lifelike puppet. Together, these two theatre artists give this play the source for its magic. Garratt is a master of vocal work, delivering some of his dialogue quieter, so as to emphasize Pinocchio's intelligence and offbeat sense of humor. With a love of learning and a passion for musical theatre, Sean Garratt's charismatic puppet is a character who'll charm both older children and adults, alike.

Having been enjoyed on stages all over Chicago, and last seen in the House Theatre's "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz," Molly Brennan is superb as Geppetto. Between being cautious with the townsfolk and her trying to teach and protect her enchanted puppet boy, Geppetto has his work cut out for him everyday. Ms. Brennan truly makes her folksy character honest and realistic, and she's excellent at portraying the trauma of being a first-time parent.

The backbone of this production is, in true House Theatre fashion, the supporting cast. Brandon Rivera is a sweetly poignant protagonist as Pinocchio's best friend, Romeo. His character's journey through this story could easily become its own play. Miss Penny, as played by Christine Mayland Perkins, is a multifaceted woman. Her motives seem a little bit mysterious. It's not entirely clear if, by the end of the play, she's changed because of what she's learned, or that she's just a conundrum. Karissa Murrell Myers makes a lovely, enchanting, melodic Blue Fairy; and Kevin Stangler is very funny as Doohickey. The musical ensemble, each of whom plays many different roles, includes Carley Cornelius, Tina Munoz Pandya, Mike Mazzocca and Omer Abbas Salem.

While this isn't the Disney version, or even Carlo Collodi's original novel, both inspire this unusual, contemporary-feeling story about how in truth lay strength and power. There's a lot to be enjoyed in this new adaptation, as well as much to be learned about bullying, lying and learning to just be yourself. So what if Pinocchio doesn't become a real boy? By the end of this tale, he understands how important it is to simply be comfortable in his own skin. And that's a lesson we can all apply to our lives"

Highly Recommended - "Pinocchio" (House Theatre): Puppetry Magic - - "House Theatre of Chicago presents the World Premiere of PINOCCHIO.
‘Pinochle.' ‘Pistachio.' ‘Pinocchio!'
The name, ‘Pinocchio', gets amusingly butchered throughout this reimagined children's classic. The mispronunciation of the name is an ongoing joke in the witty script. Adapters Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries have updated the well-known puppet story. Although they provide fun with plenty of spirited antics, their overarching message is more profound.

Instead of focusing on a puppet's quest to be a real boy, Steakley and Lobpries' Pinocchio wants to be accepted as he is... wooden, from the forest and a composer of a new musical. Geppetto (played by Molly Brennan) and the townsfolk grapple with accepting someone different from their small-minded, book burning village of intolerance. Steakley and Lobpries' reinvention has unexpected depth and beauty.

The star of the show is Pinocchio, a puppet created and crafted by Tom Lee of Chicago Puppet Studios. A masterful Sean Garratt brings Pinocchio to life and gives him personality. Garratt endears as he refuses to conform to toy norms and sitting on a shelf. He won't ‘play dead.' He lives, learns, laughs and loves as he ventures out into the world. Steakley and Lobpries have given their Pinocchio an intellectual curiosity. His adventure isn't puppet mischief. He wants to understand the world and his place in it. When he befriends and dances with the delightful Brandon Rivera (Romeo), I'm transfixed in wonder! Pinocchio has a simplistic earnestness that made me want to adopt him.

Director Chris Matthews seamlessly navigates the action from store to school to forest to whale stomach. His creative team (Joe Schermoly-scenic, Alexander Ridgers-lighting, Anna Wooden-costumes) support the story with evolving and interesting visual aides. The edge of the forest also serves as screens for projections. The terrific ensemble is dressed in matching school uniforms or early 1900s prim sensibility. I really enjoyed most all aspects of this production. At my performance, some of the singing was flat which momentarily broke the spell of enchantment. Still, I wholeheartedly recommend House's PINOCCHIO"


House Theatre creates a Pinocchio for our time And not just because the main character's nose grows when he tells a lie by Catey Sullivan, Chicago Reader - " With their adaptation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio, Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries have fashioned a fable about Trump-era nationalism. It's not subtle. At one point, a rabidly ignorant crowd condemns the titular wooden boy with percussive cries of "String him up!" His crime? Pinocchio (created by the Chicago Puppet Studio and voiced and manipulated by Sean Garratt) doesn't come from town, he comes from the forest. And as the tiki-torch-wielding villagers loudly exclaim, nothing good comes from the forest. The Blue Fairy (Karissa Murrell Myers) explains: "They're human. They're afraid of anything they don't understand." Local twit-brained tyrant Doohickey (Kevin Stangler) harnesses that fear, demanding that the forest be burned down, never mind the impact on the environment.

Despite its heavy-handed moments, director Chris Mathews's production works as a picaresque adventure and a tale of resistance and survival in times of oppression. Garratt's Pinocchio is a charmer whose fluid movements and precocious-kid antics make you forget the wooden boy is a puppet. Molly Brennan's kind but harshly pragmatic Geppetto is also moving as both a fiercely protective parent and an artist whose work is viewed with suspicion by the local powermongers.

The House's adaptation is loose: There's no happily- ever-after ending with Pinocchio turning into a "real boy." Myers's Blue Fairy doesn't sparkle-she's a ragged, haunting specter whose arias fill the air with sorrow (composer Matthew Muñiz's original music is glorious). It's a Pinocchio for our time, politicized with a sense of urgency that perhaps Collodi never imagined"


Pinocchio, Theatre review by Jonathon Abarbanel, - "This new Pinocchio definitely isn't Walt Disney's version, nor is it particularly faithful to Carlo Collodi's 1883 Italian original. The Cat and Fox baddies are gone along with the traveling puppet show, Pinocchio's turning into a donkey and-above all-his human transformation after learning kindness and generosity. Instead, this adaptation selectively uses original elements to frame themes of otherness and being different, whether that means being gay, an immigrant, physically different, or out-of-step socially or politically.

In this version, Geppetto (Molly Brennan) carves Pinocchio from wood salvaged from the Enchanted Forest, after it's burned down by a government that fears nature and declares the forest evil. Pinocchio suffers bullying and physical abuse because he's obviously so different from human children. He's a Brainiac, too, which doesn't endear him to others. His only human friend, Romeo (Brandon Rivera), has an apparent same-sex crush on Pinocchio. Puppy love or puppet love? Townsfolk even hint that Geppetto is a pedophile because he's never-married, middle-aged and makes children's toys.

The regime enforces conformity. Phrases such as "Sometimes it's easier to do what everyone else is doing" or "Sometimes lying is the right thing to do" (to get along) are frequent. It's explained that humans fear people/things they do not understand, but often willfully remain ignorant. The troglodyte attitude about ecology, and making differentness a political wedge issue, are treated comically but are intended to call up real-world willful Presidential ignorance.

The production boasts The House Theatre of Chicago's customary skill, creativity and panache. Pinocchio-a large Marionette without strings operated as a Bunraku doll puppet-is quite wonderful, his head partly a living tree trunk, designed by Chicago Puppet Studio and voiced/operated by the emotive Sean Garratt. The costumes by Anna Wooden offer subtle touches and tongue-in-cheek flourishes (such as leaves/flowers embroidered on Garratt's outfit). Alexander Ridgers's lighting is moody, effective and colorful without ever being garish. Joe Schermoly's massive scenic design suggests a modern coliseum as if we all were watching life-and-death games (abstractly, we are). There's tuneful, emotional music, too, by Matthew Muniz, utilizing recorded strings and piano and live mandolin, cello and accordion.

Seven years ago, the Neo-Futurists presented an elaborate, much more faithful adaptation of Pinocchio, which impressed me with the gruesome and violent nature of Collodi's original tale. Think the real Brothers Grimm and other cautionary fairytales. The House version is milk-and-cookies in comparison. It's enjoyable, imaginative and suitable for children perhaps as young as eight or nine, but it's not a definitive telling (which appears not to have been a goal). However, by making it a platform for issues we recognize as current, the adapters may have limited its staying power. Only time and revivals will tell".


House Theatre Presents PINOCCHIO Review- banishing Disney and reinventing a classic by Susan Lieberman, - "A ticket to House Theatre's new adaptation of PINOCCHIO is worth double the price. That's because the company produces its visually-rich shows at Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. Built as a nickelodeon in 1918 and converted to an arts complex in 1990, the structure retains much of its original architectural detail - plus assorted art, knickknacks and furniture that make for lively meandering. Drink in hand, you get a show before the show even starts.

It took a bit of persuasion to pry the audience away from the lobby areas and into their seats. But after that, House Theatre took full command. "This is the original social media," proclaims Nathan Allen, co-founder and artistic director, as he instructs everyone to turn off their phones. The performance that follows is proof positive.

If you're part of the U.S. population that knows PINOCCHIO mostly from the Disney movie, this production will put those animated images to rest. House Theatre, which specializes in storytelling via interdisciplinary stagecraft, mines the original source. Italian author Carlo Collodi wrote PINOCCHIO as a series for a children's weekly magazine in 1881. Episodic and dark, PINOCCHIO really was like 19th century social media, using an illustrated narrative to convey messages to a wide audience.

Most memorable about House Theatre's take on the puppet's path from innocence to maturity is the puppet itself. Crafted by Chicago Puppet Studio, Pinocchio comes to life when Geppetto (played androgynously by Molly Brennan) pries his head from a charred piece of tree trunk. Once the rest of his body is fashioned, actor Sean Garratt manipulates and vocalizes the wooden boy so unobtrusively, the focus always stays on Pinocchio.

During physically demanding moments, other actors join with Garratt to make Pinocchio run, leap, dance and sing. House Theatre lives up to its reputation for creating magic through movement in these scenes. Thanks to the cast led by director Chris Mathews and choreographer Kasey Foster, they're as fluid and agile as ballet.

House Theatre adaptation connects with today
Adapted by company members Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries, PINOCCHIO reinvents Collodi's story as a parable for 21st century Americans. Geppetto, a natural loner, worries that Pinocchio will attract unwanted attention as a freakish hybrid of wooden toy and human being. Although unwilling to call Pinocchio his son, Geppetto is nonetheless afraid the authorities will take him away. The curtains must stay drawn and Pinocchio must not dance or sing. Is this a commentary on undocumented immigrants avoiding arrest? Or on disabled individuals becoming isolated from the community? Or people with non-conforming gender identities struggling to find their place? All such connections ran through this viewer's mind.

Confined to Geppetto's shop, Pinocchio consumes every book on the shelf, becoming so intellectually frustrated that he escapes to the local school. There he endures another societal ill - bullying. "You're one of those home-schooled titmice," sneers one boy. Pinocchio is a new kid who's both too different and too bright for comfort. But Romeo, a conventionally human student, doesn't mesh with the classroom zeitgeist any better than Pinocchio and the two become friends.

Inspired rather than discouraged, Pinocchio embarks on many adventures. There is schoolteacher Miss Penny who regards nature as "an impulse that must be restrained," the wise Blue Fairy in the forest and traveling musicians who teach him to perform. For this viewer, PINOCCHIO gets weighed down by too many storylines that distract from Pinocchio and Geppetto's journey to create their own unique family. But the script keeps the show on swift footsteps with its humor. The laughs emerge effortlessly, a reminder that the serious business of growing up is much easier when it also includes a healthy dose of funny business"


Based on the works of Carlo Collodi. Adapted for the stage by Joseph Steakley and Ben Lobpries

Chris Matthews

Molly Brennan; Sean Garratt; Kevin Stangler; Christine Mayland Perkins; Mike Mazzocca; Karissa Murrell Myers; Tina Munoz Pandya; Carley Cornelius; Omer Abbas Salem; Brandon Rivera; Jenni M. Hadley; Brent LeBlanc; Steven Romero Schaeffer; David Corlew

Joe Schermoly (Scenic Designer); Alexander Ridgers (Lighting Designer); Anna Wooden (Costume Designer); Kevin O'Donnell (Sound Designer); Matthew Muniz (Composer); Tom Lee & Chicago Puppet Studio (Puppet Designers); Kasey Foster (Choreographer); Jamie Karas (Props Designer); Marika Mashburn (Director of Casting); Brian DesGranges (Stage Manager)

Tags: Theater, American, 2019