Legacy ‘Pinocchio’ at The Puppet Co. may have lost some magic

The puppets were gorgeous, and the venue was appealing, but the show fell short.

By Morgan Pavey

I arrived at Pinocchio at The Puppet Co. hoping for an experience that would be a little whimsical, a little zany, and full of surprise and delight. A puppet show of a puppet fairy tale told at a theater housed in a retro theme park? Yes. But while the setting and the venue delivered high theatrical production value, director Ingrid Bork’s rendition of a Pinocchio adaptation fell short.

This version of the story, originally presented by Allan Stevens and adapted by Vera C. Hughes, is a legacy production, with its last iteration performed by the company a decade ago. It is possible that some of the magic has been lost in the intervening years, as this telling was choppy and confusing.

Gepetto performed by Andrew Quilpa and Pinocchio performed by Cate Ginsberg in ‘Pinocchio.’ Photo by Maggie Rocha.

A poor, aging carpenter named Geppetto decides to build a puppet out of a talking piece of wood, which he then names Pinocchio. Pesky and lacking manners, his creation must be sent to school. Pinocchio loses his way, misguided by a ticket taker and a puppeteer at a theater, a fox/wolf and his sidekick (a sing-song-y bear, maybe?), and an evil coachman/circus promoter who somehow turns him into a donkey. Along the way, Pinocchio continually rebuffs the cryptic advice of a giant, witch-like cricket. He also lies to a mystical woman in a blue cloak (she is never introduced), which briefly makes his nose change shape for an unexplained reason, and is told that he must find his father Geppetto, who went looking for him when he didn’t come home from school, if he wants to be made into a real boy (a desire that is never explicitly stated, to my awareness).

A lack of skillful technical execution contributed to the plot confusion. Though equipped with microphones, two of the three puppeteers were often difficult to hear or understand. The third, a more lively Andrew Quilpa, was much better at articulation and clear characterization, but a recurring direction to talk over each other with overlapping dialogue could drown even their lines out.

Though the story points could come and go at whiplash pace, other moments were bogged down with obvious time-vamping and redundant ad-libbing. To be fair, all characters in the story were brought to life by just three puppeteers, but the lags created by switching puppets, costumes, or occasional props revealed the sparseness of additional production elements: there was no music, few sound effects, and little in the way of additional scenery or lighting.

Poor timing and casual delivery muddied most of the production’s obvious laugh points, though some joy was still found by the children in the audience during a brief ocean sequence with leaping fish. And while most of the littler audience members were generously attentive through the first half of the show, none seemed vocally engaged or content to sit still after the halfway mark.

TOP: Harlequin performed by Penny Russell and Fire Eate performed by Andrew Quilpa; ABOVE: Pinocchio performed by Cate Ginsberg and Blue Fairy performed by Penny Russell, in ‘Pinocchio.’ Photos by Maggie Rocha.

The puppets themselves were gorgeous, full of character and texture, and beautifully maintained over the years (the ones used in this production are the original rod puppets that premiered the show 50 years ago). The theatrical space was inviting, with a seating area made of benches lining the perimeter of a carpeted space for kids and their parents to sprawl out and enjoy. The venue, nestled in Glen Echo Park close to the majestic carousel, makes a stop at The Puppet Co. an appealing addition to a full day of family fun.

The promise is enough to make me try The Puppet Co. again, or tell a friend with kids to give it a try, just maybe not for this particular production.

Running Time: 50 minutes with no intermission.

Pinocchio plays through June 23, 2024 (Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30 am, Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 am and 1 pm), at the Puppet Co. Playhouse, 7300 Macarthur Blvd, Glen Echo, M. Purchase tickets ($15 per person, under age 2 no ticket required) by calling 301.634.5380 or order them online.

Recommended for ages 4+. Helpful driving and parking instructions are here.

The program for Pinocchio is on YouTube:

COVID Safety: Masks are strongly encouraged for all patrons age 2 and older

Morgan Pavey received her MFA from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting in 2020. Although no longer performing, she remains a happy theatergoer and arts advocate. She currently lives in Maryland and splits her working time between hospitality and freelance writing.

Direction by Ingrid Bork
Puppeteering by Cate Ginsberg, Andrew Quilpa, and Penny Russell


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