Sunday, May 20, 2018


Wood Boy Dog Fish 
created by Chelsea Sutton and Rogue Artists Ensemble

The Fire Eater (Paul Turbiak) and Puppet (Rudy
Martinez, with puppeteers Lisa Dring and Mark Royston).
Photo by Chelsea Sutton

Carlo Collodi's 1883 timeless tale of love and wood frozen in our minds' eye by the ubiquitous figures of the 1940 Walt Disney animated version of Pinocchio, takes a sudden and spectacular turn to the left under the direction of  Sean T. Caweldi and the Rogue Artists Ensemble.  Using the theme of love and loss with puppets and effects, the audience is engulfed in a transcendental miasma of sights and sounds. 

After my first introduction to the Rogue Ensemble with Kaidan : Walls Grow Thin  (with East/West Players)  in a spooky old storage facility somewhere almost off the map in Los Angeles, I've been a fan. To me the spirit of theatre has many modes: traditional and classic, modern and contemporary, experimental; political and then, the plays that are produced to simply entertain.  Finding a category for this show is impossible, which is the very reason for embracing it. It's a  trip that puts the audience at the precipice of adventure and directly into the experience fully engaged. 

Since 2001, ignoring their limits and pushing the envelope seems to be the goal of the Rogue Artists'  actors, directors, playwrights and troublemakers.  It's the troublemaking part that makes Wood Boy special.  The underlying message of love and devotion: 'becoming' as we recall in the Disney version and somewhat in the original is now turned on its ear by the Rogues. 

Entering the world of the Rogue Imagination starts as one approaches the theatre.  There's a lot of junk.. a lot of stuff...  and as we enter the courtyard and the lobby of The Garry Marshall, our senses are bombarded with the low down and mysterious world of carnival and side show with a fortune teller and an extensive museum of the world to come. The sheer energy of the space, slightly dangerous and intimidating,  prepares us for the adventure waiting at Shoreside: a crumbling resort frayed at the margins but still making a go of it.  

Gepetto (Ben Messmer), the local puppet maker has acquired a special log that has expectations.  We learn that a bulbous tyrant, the Fire Eater, (Keiana Richard) has a huge appetite for new puppets for his Shoreside puppet show. His henchmen: Cat (Tyler Bremmer) and Fox (Amir Levi) pounce upon Gepetto with threats, demanding a quick turn around with their new puppets order.  Bereft of the loss of his true love, Gepetto longs for another bottle of Dogfish whiskey, but agrees to make the new dolls. 

Playwright Chelsea Sutton has borrowed generously from Collodi's Pinocchio story with some dark and dangerous overtones.  Director Cawelti brings the ensemble together with a strong hand, proven by the excellent use of props and special effects. These, combined with the absolute feeling of dedication from the entire ensemble, keep the story movingAs the show blossoms it becomes more a presentation of performance art than any typical theatre experience an audience may have had in the past.  Some of the gags work better than others, but the narrative moves forward with Wood Boy strong willed and ignoring the advice of the poor cricket who is killed with in a few minutes of his first appearance!  Hand puppets and marionettes are expertly manipulated in what becomes Bunraku meets Commedia d'elle Arte! Three puppeteers (Sarah Kay Peters, Mark Royston and Rudy Martinez) manipulate Wood Boy (Martinez) with precision.

Wood Boy meets Wick (Lisa Dring) with whom he foolishly conspires to run away with to Funland where they are promised an everlasting paradise of no school and candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Little do they know that the trade off is to become pinanta donkeys, all to benefit The Funland MC (Miles Taber)! Excellent performances with broad gestures become adjuncts to the over all effect of the spectacle make the show irresistible.    

The Dogfish Ride, Gepetto's thrill ride, sits closed after an industrial accident that killed Gepetto's lady love (Blue) Tane Kawasaki.  Blue haunts the story and factors into the long awaited business of the magic that makes Wood Boy become real.   

Who or what the Dogfish represents may be arguable, but the ride itself is designed to thrill"Fear makes you feel real!"

Rouge Artists Ensemble flirts with the edge of something...  something dangerous: something alive, something real.  Excellent video and other spectacular devices by Dallas Nichols and Hardly Human FX are wonderful.
Shackle your disbelief to your bed post and come for an adventure to Shoreside  

Wood Boy Dog Fish by 
Chelsea Sutton and 
The Rogue Artists Ensemble
Directed by Sean T. Cawelti
Original music by Adrien Prévost
Garry Marshall Theatre
4252 W. Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Opened Friday May 18, 2018
Performances continue
Through June 24, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 p.m. 
Sundays @ 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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