Biancaneve (Snow White)
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
January 12, 2008
Italy's Teatro del Carretto has taken up shop at La MaMa this month for the company's U.S. premiere, and it would be folly to miss it. The company is presenting two massively different fairy-tale-inspired works that demonstrate their awesome range and creativity as theatre artists. Their Pinocchio is physical theatre at its finest—alternately hilarious and horrifying with an ensemble that is so in tune and energetic as to leave you breathless. Their Biancaneve (Snow White) is quite the opposite: it's a puppet show that demonstrates the company's precision and creativity in miniature. The only caveat is that both are performed in Italian, without any English translation. However, given the familiarity of the stories, and the dazzling visuals Teatro del Carretto presents, translation hardly seems necessary.
Teatro del Carretto's Pinocchio is a show for adults only. It presents Pinocchio's journey through a world full of very real dangers. Throughout the show are images of hanging, whipping, and torture played with strong theatrically that can be, at times, quite frightening. These images of brutality ring true and are in stark contrast to Pinocchio's unswerving optimism, making his survival against all likelihood that much more hopeful and inspiring.
The show itself is a series of evocative theatrical portraits of the events in the story of Pinocchio, making the experience more of a visual odyssey than a strict narrative. The show as a whole is held together by a relentless performance by Giandomenico Cupaiuolo as Pinocchio. From beginning to end, Cupaiuolo is a fountain of energy, as he seems to literally fight for his life throughout the performance. Behind it all, however, is a genuine humanity that makes Pinocchio sympathetic, relatable, and funny.
What is most powerful about this Pinocchio, however, is its visual scope. Through a simple series of doors and windows arranged in a horseshoe around the stage, and an evocative series of costumes, designer Graziano Gregori is able to transport Pinocchio from the gallows to the circus and back again. The performances by the ensemble take full advantage of the size of this adventure—presenting larger-than-life characters in a grandiose way that still feels honest. Director Maria Grazia Cipriani does an excellent job of organizing it all, creating some truly beautiful stage pictures.
Biancaneve, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Biancaneve is intended for children, and shows the company's ability to take their wild creativity into the realm of the tiny. The entire show takes place in, on, and around a wooden puppet booth with a variety of compartments. Throughout the show, the booth continues to open up in new and exciting ways—much to the delight of the children in the audience.
This play is very much a strict narrative, so much so that it is literally narrated throughout. While the play presents many clever and surprising moments, Biancaneve lacks polish. It's obvious that the company is more comfortable in the darker realm of Pinocchio than in the children's theatre world of Biancaneve. There is a tightness of pace that is missing in Biancaneve—comic moments tend to linger too long to remain funny. For example, there is a brilliant sequence in the middle in which the dwarves are hard at work, mining. Initially, the audience on my afternoon was surprised by the ingenious puppet work and play, bursting into applause. As the sequence went on, however, it started to feel a little longer than strictly necessary, and the kid in front of me with light-up shoes started to pound his feet on the ground in protest—a sure sign the moment was over.
However, the puppet work in Biancaneve is excellent. Graziano Gregori's puppets are simple and elegant. The puppeteers, Jonathan Bertolai, Giacomo Pecchia and Giacomo Vezzani, do an expert job manipulating them. My companion noted that despite some of the puppets being barely four inches tall, she could relate exactly what the puppets were saying with their "body" language.
This body language—whether it's the literal body language of the larger-than-life ringmaster in Pinocchio or the "body" language of the three-inch-tall wooden princess in Biancaneve—is the key to the success of both performances. The idea of seeing a show completely in Italian can be daunting if you don't speak Italian. However, that is the beauty of physical theatre—the physical precision of the company allows them to perform the show in a way that can communicate precisely what is being said through the body. It is this precision that makes both shows such a joy to watch.
If you're not convinced already, please go and see one or both shows before they disappear across the Atlantic— though I sincerely hope that this is the first of many visits New York will be getting from Teatro del Carretto.