No lie: This ‘Pinocchio’ rocks

Pinocchio meets the beggar lady.

There is one truly transcendent moment in Puppetworks’ latest production of “Pinocchio.”

It comes midway through, when Mike Leach, who brings a rare verve and gusto to what could have been the tired Stromboli role, enters the action and sits down to converse with Pinocchio. This breaking of the so-called “Fifth Wall” of puppet theater is nothing short of stunning — a moment when the human world and puppet world come together.

And indeed, is it not what Carlo Collodi’s classic 1882 fairy tale is all about? Does not the sight of a grown man sitting next to a marionette remind us of the existential fragility of our egg-thin humanity? In that moment, as Camus might say, is not Stromboli the puppet and Pinocchio the man? Are we not all on someone’s strings?

The moment quickly passes, but its effect lingers, eventually giving way to another great bit of theatrics: a glittery, psychedelic underwater scene that evokes the fantasy that is often forgotten in this timeless story.

As always, Nicolas Coppola’s handmade marionettes are stunning, but the true magic of Puppetworks’ “Pinocchio” is the non-Disneyfied story of the puppet who figures out what it takes to be a real boy (here’s a hint: don’t give away all your money to that nasty ice-cream vendor).

In the world of marionette theater today — with its shysters, its rip-off artists, its bait-and-switch gimmickry — I am happy to report that Puppetworks consistently presents excellent work.

“Pinocchio” plays Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 17 at Puppetworks (338 Sixth Ave., at Fourth Street in Park Slope) at 12:30 and 2:30 pm. Tickets are $8 (adults) and $7 (kids). Call (718) 965-3391 to reserve.

Thurston Dooley III has been reviewing puppet theater, juggling and mime for more than three decades. He is editor emeritus at Modern Marionette and a member of the Puppet Critics Circle.

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