A bittersweet meditation on loss and art.
By Joel Benjamin
Extraordinary Extremities, the title of Renee Philippi’s bittersweet tale of a puppeteer’s grief and loss, can be interpreted several ways. Most superficially it describes the bizarre prosthetic legs Geppetto, the lone human character, puts on his male puppet, but also describes the ends to which he goes to understand the loss of his beloved partner. Whether she died or simply left isn’t explicitly expressed, but it’s clear she’s not there to help him in his time of need. Desperate, Geppetto (Carlo Adinolfi) races about his puppet workshop (realistically designed by Mr. Adinolfi) trying to organize a puppet show to save his career and workshop.
Posters on the workshop wall recall performances by ”Geppetto and Donna’s Mythic Puppet Company” which seems to specialize in renditions of Greek myths. In fact, as the play begins, haggard, over-worked Geppetto is racing about trying to adapt a play about Perseus and Andromeda, that requires two puppeteers, to his new solo status. He speaks to his rough-hewn puppets as if they were his children, calling one his “piccolina Jenny,” and tries to elicit psychic hints from his wooden progeny as to how to proceed. In the end, he decides that a show about Orpheus and Eurydice could be done with one puppeteer and proceeds at great pace to tell the tale with makeshift versions of the vicious three-headed Cerebus who guards Hades, a cloth-encased Eurydice (aka Jenny) and a noble Orpheus, complete with a “laurel wreath” made of a fancy elastic bracelet. As Geppetto shifts his male puppet into character using the afore-mentioned orthotic metal legs he improvises this famous tale of love and loss, one that is clearly a metaphor for his own life situation. In fact, at one point he enters the tragic tale and asks the gods why he is forced to suffer such a loss.
Accompanying the show was the fine cellist Alon Bisk who played beautifully evocative and properly sad music by Lewis Flinn. The music helped take the improvised-seeming play over some rough spots and skillfully illuminated unexpressed emotions.
Mr. Adinolfi, who has a charmingly thick Italian accent, is a slender, almost gawky performer whose pain is manifest in his every gesture. He is ably, almost invisibly, directed by the author, Ms. Philippi. Mr. Adinolfi also designed the puppets which take on hauntingly distinct personas.
Extraordinary Extremities is a production of the Concrete Temple Theatre which is co-directed by Ms. Philippi and Mr. Adinolfi.
Extraordinary Extremities (from April 3rd, 2014)
15 Vandam St. (between 6th Ave. & Varick St.)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-691-1555 or www.sohoplayhouse.com
Running Time: One hour, no intermission