Although Pinocchio is labeled an opera in the Piccolo Spoleto catalog, it's actually about as far from opera as a production can get. There's no singing, no set, and only a few props — an unfinished, child-sized wooden puppet, which sits on a woodcarver's table with a mallet, a chair, and a storybook. Most of these things sit motionless on stage throughout the entire performance.
Pinocchio is more accurately described as storytelling with a few modern dance interludes. The production, which is written and performed by the Italian Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, tells the story of Pinocchio in the original words of the 1883 fairy tale by Carlo Collodi. Flory acts as the narrator, and at times seems to be acting as Geppetto — although it's hard to know for sure.
Although Flory started out as a fairly wooden (no pun intended) storyteller, with little expression and hardly any movement, he soon livened up and proved himself to be quite good at it. He speaks in Italian, of course, so the audience must keep an eye on the English supertitles, and I would venture to say that a lot is lost in this act of translation, through no fault of Flory's. We expect supertitles during operas, and the music and performers are so expressive that it's easy to gauge at least the tone of what is happening without constantly glancing upward. Here, however, since Flory was the only one on stage, it was impossible to even know how many characters were speaking, let alone what was going on.
The two dancers, both women, were very good at their craft but the choreography and costumes were confusing. Usually, one girl was Pinocchio while the other played the cricket (Jiminy Cricket, for those who remember the Disney film), another puppet, Geppetto, and other characters. Because both were in dresses with their long hair visible, at first it was hard to tell whether they were supposed to be acting out parts of the story, or simply addressing certain themes through dance.
As the show continued, it seemed that they really were supposed to be Pinocchio, Geppetto, and others, but it was consistently hard to tell exactly what the point of their dancing was.
This is in part due to the fact that the story of Pinocchio is, like most original fairy tales, pretty bizarre. Pinocchio is a really awful, naughty little puppet, and he gets into so many strange capers that the story presented by Flory — abridged, of course — felt extremely fragmented. Like the translation, I get the feeling that this is no fault of Flory's, but simply due to the writing of the time.
Either way, at the end of the performance I was left feeling unsatisfied and a bit befuddled. It felt very strange to realize that I'd just sat in a theater for one-and-a-half hours and listened to someone recite a story while I read the English version above them.
Piccolo Spoleto. Pinocchio. June 2, 8 p.m. $26/adults, $21/seniors. Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. (843) 720-3819.