1 Geppetto-Photo by Stefan Hagen-w

Geppetto is one of the many multimedia, multigenre productions that the HERE Arts Center offers. Part one-man show, part puppet theater, part musical performance, Geppetto‘s unique storytelling elements makes its short hour-long run performance a special one.

Geppetto, presented by Concrete Temple Theater, opens upon a puppetry workshop. Different styles of puppets and puppetry tools line the walls, as do posters announcing past productions by the Mythic Puppet Theater, led by husband and wife duo Geppetto and Donna. Each show adapts a classic Greek myth. We learn, however, that Donna has died recently, and her grieving husband must now produce a puppet show on his own. He decides to revive one of their classics. But when he tries to play all the parts at once, his puppets end up in shambles. Gepetto’s vain attempts to put on a show (he first tries out Perseus and Andromeda, then Helen and Menelaus) are sometimes comic as he juggles around puppets and ‘improvises’ mythological scenes. But overall, Geppetto cannot compensate for his lost partner. He cannot revisit the past as if she were still alive–and the tone remains somber throughout his mistakes.

The role of mythology in this play is a complex one. Myths are cultural essentials. You cannot improvise, change, or revise a myth. Geppetto cannot, for example, change the ending of Helen’s fate or make Perseus kill the monster with a hammer instead of a sword, because they are unchangeable. He is virtually stuck in his own productions, much like he is stuck in his grief. His loneliness confines him, just as the myths confine his storytelling.

On the other hand, Geppetto also shows the cultural importance of mythology in the act of healing. Geppetto’s last attempt to revive his plays is a production of Orpheus and Eurydice (probably my second favorite myth next to Cupid and Psyche). Orpheus is a famed musician who journeys to the underworld to revive his dead wife Eurydice. Hades approves her return on the condition that Orpheus must not look at his wife until they have reached the land of the living. For reasons that differ depending on which account you read, Orpheus looks at Eurydice in the final moments of their return, Eurydice is plunged back into the underworld,  and Orpheus loses his wife for the remainder of his life. The fact that Geppetto’s emotional journey matches Orpheus’s is not lost on the puppeteer, and through the story, he comes to the realization that he has, in fact, lost his wife forever. She cannot return, nor can he continue as if she has. Geppetto’s decision and his subsequent hope is truly touching as he frees himself from his grief and from his mythic confinements.

The play, written by Renee Philippi, was inspired by an interview with double amputee Hugh Herr, whose recovery resulted in a revelation that his loss can become his strength. He now can wear different ‘feet’ for different occasions (making him a much better athletic than most).  While the play is quite layered with themes of loss and redemption, no part was as potent as the play’s ending. I wished that some of Geppetto’s puppet shows were perhaps a little shorter, or at least richer with emotion, but hey, this is a family-friendly show too. Carlo Adinolfi is engaging as an actor and a puppeteer. But the real star of the show is Lewis Flinn’s hauntingly beautiful score, played on a single cello by Jeanette Stenson. The music truly provides layers of depth to this simple production and highlights the mythic proportions of Geppetto’s journey into new selfhood.

Geppetto runs through June 30. Get tickets HERE (lol pun!)

Nota Bene: This production is in no way, shape, or form related to this masterful work of film, also entitled “Geppetto.”