What More Can One Ask For In a Performance?
Aristotle calls love “to will the good of another”; Leibniz said that love is "to be delighted by the happiness of another”; Biologist Jeremy Griffith defines love as "unconditional selflessness". In other words, as Jackson Brown Jr., wrote, “Love is when someone else’s happiness is more important than your own.” This struggle between self-directed desire and true love, integrity and action, is reflected in the moving plot of THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, playing at the Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s Tenney Theatre, through May 18th, adapted by Nathaniel Niemi and the HTY ensemble, and directed by Nathaniel Niemi.
The story of Pinocchio begins when Geppetto (Junior Tesoro) discovers a block of wood that seems to move, magically, of its own accord. Out of this humble, yet mysteriously animated piece of wood, Geppetto carves a child for himself: Pinocchio, a boy-puppet, with ‘no strings’. A lonely widower, Geppetto raises Pinocchio as a son, bestowing paternal advice, and lavishing affection on him. The relationship between Tesoro and Sean Joseph-Choo (Pinocchio) is well-developed and overwhelmingly effective. (On a personal note, I loved the notion of an artist loving his creation so entirely that it was real to him.) Also, Geppetto and Pinocchio are the original adopted-father-son story—mirroring the immensely profound bond that can evolve between two people who, out of caring actions, become truly father and son.
Played with astounding nuance, wide-eyed innocence and captivating charm by Sean Joseph-Choo, Pinocchio soon embarks on thrilling adventures and encounters unforgettable and iconic characters along the way. From a thieving, blind gypsy-vagabond cat, to cricket-fairy, to a singing and dancing troupe of animated marionettes, led by a threatening puppet-master on stilts.
This enthralling piece of theatre is fun, provocative, engaging and educational for both adults and children. The cast (which also includes Maki’ilei Ishihara, Ho’onani Kamai and Matthew Mazzella) act with their voices and sing superbly. The dance numbers are equally superlative with highly effective choreography by director Nathaniel Niemi and assistant choreographer Harmony Tesoro. In addition to singing and dancing, everyone in the company of actors (Joseph-Choo excepted), plays multiple roles with tremendous versatility and distinction.
As is typical of Honolulu Theatre for Youth (Oahu’s only professional company), the design is absolutely spectacular. A neutral stage with geometric elements, three windows, and a moveable table designed by Chesley Cannon and Assistant set designer Eric West allow for multiple locations without cumbersome scene changes. (Instead of clunky blackouts and having the audience wait while the set is changed, spotlights are implemented, along with quickly rolling a table in place.) Lighting by Brian Gilhooly effectively creates mood and focus, and also aids in a well-paced production with seamless scene changes (his under-water scenes are especially outstanding.) Iris Kim’s exceptional costuming helps establish characters and presents an impressively unified palette. There are also special effects (such as a fire), original puppets, and a magnificent use of sound (for example, a striking sound effect is played whenever Pinocchio tells a lie and his nose grows! This attention to detail is one of the many reasons the show is fantastic.)
In the end, of course, Pinocchio stops lying. He begins to understand that our actions are what define us. Pinocchio—whose only dream in life is to become a real, live boy—ultimately makes a brave and selfless decision. This sequence in the play is performed and staged so beautifully, I was almost driven to tears, despite knowing the story.
Lao Tzu said, “being loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage”; Victor Hugo said, “to love is to act.” The story of THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO is one of true love; a universal and timeless tale that speaks to us on the deepest level, and inspires the angels of our better selves. Outstanding performances, brilliant design, and an exciting, insightful narrative—what more can one ask for in a performance?
Written by Taurie Kinoshita.