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'Pinocchio,' 'Soul': Fun on Small Budget


Entertaining children's theater doesn't always come with a big budget and fancy sets. The Serendipity Theatre Co.'s "Pinocchio" at Burbank Little Theatre and the We Tell Stories troupe's "The Soul of the Story" at Ivy Substation prove that imagination and experience can go a long way when it comes to engaging, no-frills fun.

"Pinocchio," adapted and directed by Sam Kaplan, is based on the Collodi original, not the Disney version. It is fittingly performed commedia dell'arte-style, with traditional half-masks, exaggerated physical movement, songs and storytelling.

The adult actors in the cast, professionals Christopher Halsted, Diana Dupuis and Jean-Louis Darville, play multiple roles. Halsted is Gepetto and the ferocious Puppet Master. Darville is the officious Captain, sly Fox, scheming Coachman and clownish servant to the Blue Fairy, played by Dupuis (she is also the criminal Cat).

Dupuis is at a disadvantage in her frumpy Blue Fairy outfit--costume designer Sherri Grider's only clunker--but Darville and Halsted are a cut above in their many roles.

So are the two confident, well-trained youth actors, Thomas Odell as Pinocchio and Nicolas Cowan as lazy Lampwick. Odell does a good job as the loose-limbed puppet and Cowan shines at his character's stylized physical buffoonery.

Lighting designer Nathan Parks adds visual interest and, although the set pieces are spare, designer Erick Weiss' ocean waves and monstrous whale are high points.

* "Pinocchio," Burbank Little Theatre, George Izay Park, 1100 W. Clark St., Saturdays at 1 p.m.; Sundays at 1 and 4 p.m. Ends Feb. 18. Adults, $14; $8 for ages 13 and under. Not recommended for under age 5. (818) 557-0505. Running time: 90 minutes.


Comic Folklore: The very portable, interactive, theater-in-a-trunk We Tell Stories, headed by Carl Weintraub (you may remember him as Cagney's love interest in the original "Cagney & Lacey" series), has been around for about 15 years, touring schools and parks for the most part.

Because the company rotates a number of actors in the shows, quality can vary, but when this troupe is on, it's a kick.

The troupe was at its best in Saturday's opening performance of "The Soul of the Story," three comic tales for young children from African and African American folklore. A celebration of Black History Month, the performance launched the company's new series of free shows at Ivy Substation in Culver City.

Gerald James, Weintraub and Diana Tanaka acted out the stories with the aid of eager audience volunteers, who found themselves playing cows, chickens, bird back-up singers, wild animals and frogs.

Guided with expert ease by the veteran professionals, the novice actors added to the laughter in "Akimba and the Magic Cow," about friendship betrayed and regained; "The Frog Who Wanted to Sing," doo-wop, that is; and "Brother Rabbit and the Lion," a trickster tale that finds the wily rabbit getting the better of just about everybody.

* "The Soul of the Story," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, Saturdays, 11 a.m. Ends Feb. 24. Free. (213) 256-2336. Running time: 50 minutes.

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