("I Never Lie—The Pinocchio Project" plays at The Phoenix Theatre through April 12th, 2014.)
99 Stock Productions is the project of graduates of the theatre department at San Francisco State University. They are a company of great energy and vision. Individually and collectively, they represent some of the finest young talent currently working in the San Francisco Bay Area. As is always the case with graduates of the SFSU Theatre Department, they are conspicuously well-trained.
"I Never Lie—The Pinocchio Project" is clearly the product of considerable talent, vision, creativity and hard work. In spite of these impressive elements, however, it remains very much student work that does not quite succeed as a full theatre piece.
Director Meredith Eden states that she wanted to explore some of the grimmer elements of Carlo Collodi's classic, in which Pinocchio murders the Talking Cricket with a hammer, and the Cat and Fox rob Pinicchio and abandon him hanging helplessly in a tree. It is not the happily-ending tale envisioned by Disney.
Eden and her troupe of young actors have clearly spent a great deal of time and energy investigating the complex themes of lies and injustice, reality and unreality, cruelty and kindness, which Collodi's fable evokes. Unfortunately, they have not succeeded in organizing their discoveries into a theatrically compelling presentation. It is difficult to understand who is who in the story, a narrative structure is mostly conspicuous by its absence, and the various theatrical moments—some of which are truly compelling—do not coalesce into a whole. The result is an evening that veers dangerously towards boredom, but not without some very interesting flashes of excitement along the way.
The work of the excellent design team provides much of the excitement. Set Designer Kirsten Royston has beautifully created an old fashioned schoolroom with loving attention to detail. Joey Postil's lights provide a great deal of visual interest as do Andy Faulkner's props, James Ard's sound design and, especially, the mutimedia elements provided by Kevin Sweetser.
It is the visual delights of this production that stay with the viewer such as the boyish Pinocchio appearing mysteriously out of a rainstorm, boys collapsing like marionnettes whose strings have been cut, Pinocchio encumbered with ropes, a game of make believe war. It is not enough, however, to make up for the confusing and ultimately uninteresting dialogue.
The opening night audience of friends and colleagues were delighted and encouraging. This reviewer is delighted and encouraged by the company's talent, hard work and enthusiasm, and hopes to see more impressive results in the future.
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"I Never Lie—The Pinocchio Project" a devised theatre piece written and directed by Meredith Eden, produced by 99 Stock Productions. Sound Designer: James Ard. Props Designer: Andy Faulkner. Costume Designer: Michelle Mal. Lighting Designer: Joey Postil. Cinematographer: Nicholas Poulos. Set Designer: Kirsten Royston. Multimedia Designer: Kevin Sweetser.
Fox: Derek Caplan. Cricket: Andrew Chung. Cat: Tim Goble. Gepetto: James Mayagoitia. Romeo: Hunter Ridenour. Pinocchio: Renzo Romero.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC).
Find more coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area theatre scene at www.theatrestorm.com.