City Pages - 'Fringe Day 4: Norse gods, wedding disasters, and an excellent (and dark) take on 'Pinocchio'

Mixed Blood Theatre

A tongue-in-cheek reimagining of this well-known tale sounds like typical Fringe fare. There’s nothing typical about this production, however, which confirms that Sheep Theater is one of the Twin Cities’ most promising young companies.

Playwrights Joey Hamburger and Michael Rogers, with director Michael Torsch, unveil an unforgettable puppet: utterly creepy and yet oddly endearing. If Tim Burton ever cast a Pinocchio, he might well look like Robb Goetzke. Bald and stiff with eyes perpetually bugged out, Goetzke comes to life with a spine-tingling gasp. Unapologetically drawn to violence and greed, Pinocchio has only his cricket conscience (Rogers) to save him from the grasp of Stromboli (Hamburger) — who, in this telling, is a former organized-crime associate of Geppetto (Jacob Mobley). Gone clean, Pinocchio’s dad wants nothing to do with Stromboli’s Pleasure Island scheme.

Just go with it. What’s remarkable is that Hamburger and Rogers are able to make this reimagined story work in its own right, as well as throwing in a healthy dose of Sheep's wordy, absurdist humor. The company's tight-knit core ensemble have now created several shows together over the past few years, and their mutual trust pays off in character-driven humor like the way Rogers is reluctantly drafted into service by a Blue Fairy (Iris Rose Page) who makes many of her entrances with the warning “Coming in hot!”

The production also ably incorporates composer John Hilsen, who performs his epic score live at stage left. The show, though, ultimately belongs to Goetzke, whose dryly realist but not irredeemable Pinocchio is one of the most compelling onstage creations of the year. Sheep is good at building to spectacular climaxes, and Goetzke’s big confrontation with Hamburger doesn’t disappoint, earning a huge laugh and a rousing ovation. Put Pinocchioon your must-see list.