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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 20, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 34
Frankenocchio a visually stunning puppet production
Arts & Entertainment
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Frankenocchio a visually stunning puppet production

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Frankenocchio
Lee Center,
Seattle University
Through
September 8


The stunningly beautiful puppets of Brian Kooser and company are back. So is a crowd-pleasing piece from the past: Frankenocchio, last performed in 2003. The obvious assumption of the title is that it is half Frankenstein's monster and half Pinocchio. Both of those stories have a character "created" by a human, neither of which is true in this story. This character is a beatifically-faced young boy, with glittery, expressive eyes whose life starts out flying among the clouds until his puppet strings are cut by some god-like being and he is sent plunging down to earth, severing head from body at the bottom of the fall. Once his head is severed from his body, each part goes on adventures to try to reunite and become a whole person. However, this two-part innocent is exploited along the way by many nefarious people who try to find something to profit from.

A huge plus is the zany, klezmer-like music provided by God's Favorite Beefcake, a four-member band "comprised of Shmootzi the Clod, Meshuganah Joe, SnuffleupaGus and Creepy Uncle Milly," who play everything including a saw and provide the circus music for the production. All the special effects and the "mood music" (when things are going terribly wrong, for instance) is provided by this talented band of musicians.

So, visually and aurally, it's a treat. Storywise, the crew has decided, apparently, not to update or improve the choppy and surreal plotline that has this headless little-boy-body and severed head kidnapped into a freak show. The head is able to reattach to various bodies, such as chickens, poodles, snakes, and seals. (Those headless bodies are developed through all sorts of plot mayhem and cartoon violence.) Some adult puppets try to keep the boy safe and fail. Some adult puppets try to exploit the boy and partially succeed. The female circus owner wants the boy to be her own "boy toy." There is a high sexual-deviancy quotient in Kooser's work.

Veteran puppeteers Gavin Cummins, Jenelle Weidlich, and Brian Kooser are joined by talented newcomers Ben Burris, Katie Carrasco, and Hannah Reid to create the vast landscape that Frankenocchio must travel. Wonderful moments include the lyrical beginning, where Frankenocchio is cut down from the sky, the elephant, an underwater seascape lit by blacklight, and the bigger-than-life-size puppets that suddenly appear next to the normal puppets. The puppetry techniques can make you forget that up to three different people are needed, sometimes, to manipulate one small puppet.

Think of puppets as the originators of the "cartoon ethic" where violence is comic and bad things happen even to heroes. Familiar jokes make it easy to follow the story. The bad guy, Malvaggio, is trying to take over the circus, the good guys are a weak old man, Benevecchio, and a character who believes only bad things happen to him named Tragico. The stereotypes enforce the storyline allowing us to make the improbable leaps that the script contains and we can shrug and say, "It's a puppet show." The whole is definitely worth more than the parts and is a fun, subversive way to transfer our aspirations and desires on stage. For more information, go to www.briankooser.com or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/120745 or call 800-838-3006.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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