Pinocchio and The Strings of Lies Theater Play Review

A crossover play with a unique concept and a creative team who did a good job on the set design, props, and costumes, but lacks on plot and character aspects, with some technical issues which affect the overall viewing experience. It’s like a Disney fan fiction which aims to relive your childhood memories, but far from a well-written story which gives its viewers an unforgettable theatrical experience. 

Pinocchio and The Strings of Lies Promotional Poster.jpg
Promotional poster of theatrical play Pinocchio and The Strings of Lies, from the BulSU Performing Arts Division Facebook page.

Lives are defined by that thing called ‘wish.’ This is the driving force which urges us to move and make choices. It is also the key player in making stories happen, both in real life and in fiction.

Stories can’t be stories without a main character who has a want. In the course of the story, he’d face conflicts which hinder him from achieving his goals. Usually, there are two ways which the main character chooses in dealing with the conflict: take the rocky road of morality and righteousness or the asphalted path of evil.

The writer may choose whatever road he wants his character to take. But how do we know if the writer did his job very-well? It’s simple. If the readers or watchers cared about the main character, it means the writer knows his target audience and has effectively executed the premise he wants to show.

The play Pinocchio and The Strings of Lies by BulSU Performing Arts Division- Theater Arts Unit (PAD-TA) is about a main character who took the easy road. Produced by Thrivian Production (4th year Theater Arts students), it is the latest addition to PAD-TA’s collection of plays. It was written Princess Anne Jacinto and Pauline Martinez, and directed by Danica Mae David and Rose Camille Marcos.

The production ran from March 10 to 11 of 2016, and was staged in Valencia Hall. Tickets costs P100 each for Bulacan State University-Main Campus students, and P150 for outsiders.

Pinocchio and the Strings of Lies is a fictional crossover of iconic Disney movies which tells a re-imagined story of Pinocchio, a living wooden marionette who wishes to become a real boy. But in this version, Ursula, the main antagonist of Little Mermaid, is the granter of wishes, not the Blue Fairy herself. Pinocchio has to meet Ursula’s conditions to make his wish come true, which are primarily about facing the iconic antagonists from other Disney movies and taking notable items from them.

For a short background, Pinocchio’s origin stems back to the 1881 serial The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian writer Carlo Collodi. It’s about carpenter Gepetto who made a wooden marionette Pinocchio, claiming it was his son. Just like in any typical fairy tale, Pinocchio learned how to walk and talk magically. He ran away from home, and got involved into a series of troubles because of his mischievous attitude. Originally, it had 15 chapters which ended with a tragic note. Fans of the series didn’t receive the ending very well. So, in 1883, Collodi made it into a novel and added 20 more chapters where Pinocchio gradually changed from bad to good, ending happily as Pinocchio became a real boy.

In Disney’s animated film adaptation in 1940, Pinocchio’s character was ‘toned-down,’ turning him into an innocent cute boy who only got himself in trouble because he’s only a child. It was a shortened version and Pinocchio’s character here is not exactly ‘unlikable.’

PAD-TA’s version, on the other hand, didn’t have the familiar elements such as the sense of danger and the tale of redemption trope which are prominent in both the novel and movie version. Instead, it focused on the deconstruction of Disney villains, saying they’re inherently good, but only got messed up because Pinocchio lied to them. For an instance, The Evil Queen in Snow White didn’t really intend to kill Snow White even if she’s the fairest of them all. But Pinocchio told the Queen that Snow White looks sick and suggested that the entire kingdom may idolize this “sick look.” The Evil Queen changed her mind and intended to eliminate Snow White, with Pinocchio giving her the poisoned apple to execute her plan.

Also, it relived the “bad boy” character of Pinocchio in the novel version and ended in a not-so-happy way, with every mischief that Pinocchio had done backfired at him. The ending was open-ended, though. It only showed that Pinocchio got the wrong items, probably because of laziness, and everyone was angry at Pinocchio. Voila, that’s the end. It’s somewhat similar with Collodi’s original plotline, although in that version, Pinocchio was hanged in a tree to die.

For starters, I’d like to commend the writers for coming up with a good concept. The deconstruction they did with the villains was interesting, adding a new dimension to those antagonists who we hated when we were young.

Also, the stage set, props, costumes and make-up really did suit the play. Everything was intricately detailed. No wonder many viewers took a selfie with the actors after the play. They really looked good with their outfits.

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Selfie with the actors (1).
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Selfie with the actors (2).

However, the play had its flaws as well, most particularly in its storyline, technicalities and the actors’ enunciation of English words.

The play was so focused on the deconstruction of the villains that it overlooked the development of its main character, Pinocchio himself. He was depicted as deceit personified, but his character feels lacking because it was as if he was created to solely represent an entity. He was not fully fleshed character with a fair share of strengths and flaws, unlike the Pinocchio in the novel and Disney versions. It’s hard to empathize to Pinocchio’s character because the writers failed to (1) give him any likable or relatable quality and (2) justify Pinocchio’s goals (becoming a real boy).

This weakness gave birth to another weakness: the story had a weak ending (though it’s forgivable if the writers would come up with a sequel). Due to the fact that it’s hard to relate with Pinocchio, the ending didn’t leave much impact to the viewers. Plus, the plot itself had a weak way of building itself up towards its conclusion. It was downright predictable, lacking any tension because of its focus on the mini-arcs of villains and not in the main storyline.

It felt as if I merely watched a fan fiction of previous Disney works.

Also, playwrights didn’t take into consideration their target audience. There’s nothing really wrong with any story concept a writer wants to create, but he must know his audience. Most of the viewers are teenager, so they should have created something that they would find relatable with themes which befit their age group.

Actually, a crossover concept isn’t bad. As a matter of fact, the Japanese comics Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle is also a crossover fiction of previous works of CLAMP, the creator of popular series such as Card Captor Sakura, Angelic Layer, Magic Knight Reayearth, etc. But what made TRC a successfully-written crossover is that it didn’t focus on the fan’s cravings. Their main writer, Ohkawa Ageha, come up with an original storyline using past characters, having its own set of themes. It’s a very plot-driven narrative, but it didn’t overlook its main characters, giving them the proper development they deserve. Plus, it knows its target audience: teenage male readers. It has the tropes prevalent in male-oriented young adult fiction such as fighting scenes, a bit of bloodshed, the element of danger and adventure, etc.

The play’s storyline could have been better if it didn’t take the “fan fiction” path and made a teenage version of Pinocchio instead.

In the acting aspect, the ones who stood out are Joash Isaac Santiago (Pinocchio) and Anne Jommelle Hipolito (Ursula). They had the best enunciation of words and managed to depict their character at their best. Some actors have good acting, but weak in  enunciating words. Others are lackluster in both departments, but most of them are minor characters. It’s important to practice speaking clearly. Even if the acting is good, it’d be pointless if the audience doesn’t understand the dialogue, the most crucial story-building aspect in theatrical plays.

Another hindrance that would affect the viewer’s experience is the sound system where the play was staged. What’s the point of having a clear enunciation if the sound system tends to be shaky? Most of the time, I don’t understand what the characters are talking about because I can’t hear it properly. This lessened my enjoyment.

Overall, Pinocchio and The String of Lies excels in the creativity department- in concept, stage design, costumes and the like. But with a weak storyline and poor execution, it failed to give its viewers a spectacular experience.

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