MIMING'S THEIR BUSINESS : Seattle Troupe's 'Pinocchio' Travels Light to Irvine

Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Most kids don't need expensive gadgets to kick-start their imaginations. In the hands of a child, a plastic bowl can just as well be an astronaut's helmet as a baby doll's bathtub, and entire kingdoms can be built from a pile of wooden blocks.

That less-is-more theory also holds true in children's theater, says Bruce Wylie, co-artistic director of the Seattle Mime Theatre. The three-actor troupe presents its adaptation of Carlo Collodi's "Pinocchio" and three short concert pieces Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. The performance is recommended for ages 4 and up.

As Wylie sees it, when stimulating young imaginations, "the most powerful thing is something that just opens the door" to creative thought. "In this day and age, too much is too easy for a lot of our kids," he noted. "If we want them to be creative, we have to ask more of them."

Accordingly, this "Pinocchio" travels light. A fabric backdrop, a couple of screens and a bench make up most of the set; costumes and props are also understated. Instead, the cast, which includes Wylie, co-artistic director Rick Davidson and company member Jean Hamilton, relies chiefly on movement, masks and minimal dialogue to bring the story to life. The show is performed in what Wylie calls New American Mime, a more natural, less-stylized type of movement than that popularized by French artist Marcel Marceau.

The combination invites audiences to become more actively involved in the show, filling in the blanks of the story with their own imagination.

"This is not a Spielberg thing where we spend $20 million and nothing is required of the audience but to take it in," Wylie said. "A large part of what happens up there has to do with the audience's creative perceptions. They're participating. That's why this kind of theater is so powerful.

"For example, there's a scene in which

Pinocchio is turned into a donkey and is thrown into the ocean. In terms of staging, all we do is rock the backdrop back and forth behind him to simulate the movement of waves.

"One day, this child came up to us after the show and asked how we ever got all that water off the stage. To me, that really speaks to the power of mime, and of people's imaginations."

SMT's "Pinocchio" is truer to Collodi's original tale than the better-known Disney film, Wylie said. There's kindly Gepetto the toy-maker and the nasty puppet master, Stromboli, but instead of the dapper Jiminy, the cricket in this tale plays a very minor role. (In fact, he's squished early in the show.)

The Seattle Mime Theatre was founded in 1977 by Wylie, Davidson, Elizabeth Roth and Pat Tyler. The company tours about three months out of the year and has performed across the United States and in Britain, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Their repertoire includes several mime showcases that demonstrate the range of this art form for adult audiences, and they regularly present workshops and seminars in mime for college students. The balance of their time is spent developing new works and staging one or two shows annually at their theater facility in Seattle.

"Pinocchio," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Cinderella" and a "very liberated version of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' " are among SMT's regular children's offerings, Wylie said, but all have been adapted with grown-ups in mind.

"We write them for our own enjoyment as adults," Wylie explained. "We always find it gratifying that parents--who probably had to flip coins to see who would take the station wagon-full of kids to this thing--end up screaming with laughter.


The Seattle Mime Theatre's "Pinocchio" and other works.


Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.


Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine.


On the UC Irvine campus near the corner of Campus Drive and Bridge Street, directly across from the Irvine Marketplace.


$10 to $12.

Where to call

(714) 854-4646.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World