Broadcast text reviews of: PINOCCHIO and BENEATH THE BANYAN TREE

by Lynn on March 6, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following shows are were Friday, March 6, 2015. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: Pinocchio at Young People’s Theatre until March 21, 2015; and Beneath the Banyan Tree at Theatre Direct until March 28, 2015 at Artscape Wychwood Barns |601 Christie Street, Studio 176 (Christie & St. Clair St. West).

The host was Phil Taylor

Good Friday Morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You have something different this week, don’t you?

I do in a way. I’m reviewing two children’s shows. The first is Pinocchio based on Carlo Collodi’s beloved classic story of a wooden puppet who wanted to be a real live boy. This is at Young People’s Theatre.

Then Beneath the Banyan Tree, written by Emil Sher and produced by Theatre Direct. It’s about Anjali who is new to Canada and just wanted to fit in. Both are wonderful stories with different results.

Let’s start with Pinocchio.

It’s presented by a theatre company called Tout à Trac from Quebec that uses puppets, masks and storytelling to prick the imagination. Writer-Director Hugo Bélanger has taken Carlo Collodi’s story and re-imagined it.

There is an elaborate set and costumes by Patrice Charbonneau-Brunelle. Pinocchio is a wood, hand held puppet. In the story he is created by Geppetto, a wood carver. Pinocchio keeps Geppetto company. Pinocchio wants to be a real boy and not a puppet. Pinocchio goes to school. Geppetto sells his coat so that he can afford to buy Pinocchio a book.

For all his good intentions to grow up to be a good little boy and later a man, Pinocchio gets into bad company. The Fox and the Cat are cases in point. Both are nasty. They pray on Pinocchio’s naivety, his innocence and at times, his lack of moral fibre.

They tell him school is a waste of time and that he should quit and go with them and have fun. And he does for a short time. Pinocchio also has that business of lying too often so that his nose grows.

But Pinocchio also has good friends like a wise flitting cricket, who saves him from danger. And at heart, Pinocchio wants to do right by Geppetto, a heartening part of the story.

How do they present Pinocchio?

Krystel Descary is a sprightly woman who manipulates the hand held three feet tall puppet. She stands behind him on stage, wearing breeches and a rough shirt (no attempt at covering her up). She holds him firmly and moves about the stage with him. She says his lines in a high, delicate voice.

The Fox is loud and gruff. The Cat is frisky and relies on mewing sounds. There is a carnival man named Mangiafuoco who employs Pinocchio who bellows everything or sings off key. Here’s is where I think this production falls down.

How so?

The company Tout à Trac is producing this for Young People’s Theatre. I get the uneasy sense that they bellow and talk loudly perhaps because they don’t think kids can sit still and concentrate, so shouting gets their attention. I also found the performances for the most part were silly antics and repeatedly over acted stage business. I don’t think this gives the young audience their due.

I’ve seen kids sit still and listen if they are treated with respect and consideration. I just find this bellowing silly stuff playing and talking down to kids. They have brains and they deserve better.

The comments from the school children I saw the show with indicated they have an understanding of moral responsibility. They know when Pinocchio is being cheated and treated badly. They call out to express their concern. They get it. They don’t need to be talked down to.

I do believe that Krystel Descary does a lovely job of creating the personality of Pinocchio and she manipulates the puppet with skill. And yes his nose does grow when he lies, and I have no idea how the trick is done. It’s magic I guess.

And how about Beneath The Banyan Tree?

I loved everything about it. It’s produced by Theatre Direct. This is the 10th anniversary of the piece. It’s written by Emil Sher and directed by Lynda Hill. The design by Cheryl Lalonde is compact, colourful and imaginative. The centre piece of the set is the knotted trunk of the Banyan Tree. It’s the national tree of India.

Anjali is a young girl from India who loves reading mythical Indian stories, about monkeys who are smart, crocodiles who are sneaky but not smart, a peacock who gets his comeuppance and an elephant who learns to be considerate. She confides in the banyan tree who gives her guidance and confidence.

Then she moves with her family to Canada and her world is turned upside down. She is teased by the class bully about the way she dresses, her traditional food, and the way she talks. She feels left out. But she also meets kind people. Her turning point comes when she has to tell her own story to the class. She tells her story, partly in dance—kudos to choreographer, Lata Pada. It’s all masterful, sensitive, and quite moving.

How does the production tell the story?

It’s beautifully directed by Lynda Hill but I get the sense this is such a collaborative affair between the choreography of Lata Pada, the set and costume design by Cheryl Lalonde—and of course, Emil Sher’s story.

The audience’s imagination is engaged. For example, the elephant is realized by two umbrellas that are decorated with two dreamy eyes, a floppy trunk, and lots of colourful accessories. Two long green leaf structures flap open and shut and become the long mouth of the crocodile.

The cast of four—Qasim Khan, Rachelle Ganesh, Natalia Gracious, and Kyle Orzech–are excellent, shifting from playing various animals, the banyan tree, friends of Anjali, and other characters.

But it’s Natalia Gracious as Anjali who shines brightest. She is innocent, anxious about fitting in, perhaps embarrassed at having to wear traditional garb at times and eating her familiar food, but she prevails.

She has learned from her Indian stories and guidance from her beloved banyan tree. She realizes she has good, supportive friends, and she also has the character to forgive the bully and help her when she tries to do the traditional dance. Natalia Gracious is graceful in the dance, and winning as Anjali.

And the whole thing is presented quietly by the cast and creative team. No need to shout and overact. Just communicate and treat the audience-both child and parent—with respect. Tell the story. They will listen.

It’s recommended for kids 4 and older. I recommend Beneath the Banyan Tree for every adult I know. And of course, every kid.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s Blog at twitter @slotkinletter

Pinocchio plays at Young People’s Theatre until March 3,

Beneath the Banyan Tree plays at Theatre Direct Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie Street, Studio 176 (Christie & St. Clair St. West) until March 28.

Check their website at for exact times and dates.

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