Feel Alive with “Wood Boy Dog Fish”

I walk down the poster-littered sidewalk and see smoke rising from behind the cardboard-woven fence ahead, leading me to a gate into another world. I step through and take in my surroundings. This was not an empty parking lot; it was Shoreside, a run-down, lived-in, carnival-like town by the water. Intricate puppets and Shoreside paraphernalia advertising the Dogfish Adventure Ride – a rollercoaster based on a mythical, fear-eating sea monster – adorn the lobby of the Garry Marshall Theater. There are carnival games – a beanbag toss and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (a lovely tribute to Pinocchio‘s Pleasure Island tragedy) – confections for sale, touristy photo ops, a fortune teller… I marvel at the details and intricacies on display before I even set foot in the theater. Welcome to Shoreside, indeed.

Welcome to Shoreside, it’s where the Dogfish waits for you inside.
Is it the monster that you fear to see? Truth is never free.
Welcome to Shoreside, it’s where the Dogfish waits for you inside.
For life’s too short, forget all that you knew.
Free is never true.

Matching, if not outdoing, the quality of their previous production, Kaiden Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble again demonstrates their extraordinary skills in puppetry and projected media in Wood Boy Dog Fish, their reimagining of the beloved tale of Pinocchio, the wooden boy who longed to be real. Guided by the well-known story, they embellish this narrative with masterful visual components and an even more prominent sense of the melancholy and macabre.

What now? You’ll all get your special place in the world. Your hopeless, disappointing place.

Shoreside’s Geppetto (a defeated Ben Messmer), a disheveled and depressed alcoholic, struggles to make a living under the oppressive bullying of Fire Eater (an intense Keiana Richard) and his henchmen, Fox (fantastically played by Amir Levi) and Cat (an intimidating Tyler Bremer). One night, with help from Geppetto’s deceased love and creator of the Dogfish Ride, Blue (Tane Kawasaki), the sentient puppet known as Wood Boy (Rudy Martinez) is brought to life. On his quest to find out what it means to be “real,” Wood Boy faces a number of dangerous and life-changing experiences, only to reconnect with Geppetto and finally become real.

It’s almost like you’re being reborn.

One of the many things I loved about Wood Boy Dog Fish was when Cricket (an adorable puppet) would randomly appear with asides to the audience. The wise-cracking spokes-cricket for all things Dogfish brand – including Geppetto’s oft-drunk whiskey (“when you’ve lost all hope“), potato chips (“empty calories for an empty life“) and Clear Conscience Bottled Water “(“drown that inner voice and feel alright“) – provided a commentary on consumerism, and how companies promise that their snake oils will help all of life’s problems: “Brought to you by Dogfish Brand Wrinkle Cream, because only the good die young and only the young have fun. Dogfish Wrinkle Cream – stave off the reality of your impending mortality.” We all fear growing old and dying, we fear having a life without meaning, and Cricket points this out with his array of “easy-fixes,” that in actuality don’t solve the fears that the infamous Dogfish would love to exploit.

A wish is only your fear tied up with a bow, blooming from the deepest, darkest part of your soul.

Wood Boy Dog Fish also emphasizes not just the journey of growing up, but the struggles of adulthood, such as love, grief and mortality. Throughout his journey, Wood Boy faces a variety of all-too-real fears – from being burned, to losing a friend (Lisa Dring as the tragic Wick), to being turned into a donkey ready for slaughter – before finally overcoming the biggest fear of all: The Dog Fish Adventure Ride. Years ago, Blue died within it; she was crushed by her fear of failure and the worry that her love for Geppetto was not reciprocated. Wood Boy’s bravery in conquering the ride frees Blue’s spirit to briefly return to the world of the living. Blue and Geppetto get their chance to express their feelings for one another, Blue changes the ride to have a happy ending, and then shares a piece of her heart with Wood Boy, thus making him real. Wood Boy and Blue weren’t alone in this finale. Geppetto, having faced his grief by finally revealing his love to Blue, allows himself to open up to and care for Wood Boy.

I thought I had time.
For what?
Everything.

The 3D set pieces and masks felt like a cartoon brought to life. I was astounded by the effects and the complicated puppetry (by Martinez, Mark Royston and Sarah Kay Peters) in bringing Wood Boy to life, which he most definitely was – on stage was an articulated and “living” wooden boy. The monsters were darker and more real than ever; the Funland sequence was particularly horrifying and heartbreaking. There are so many nuanced layers to Wood Boy Dog Fish, many more than I initially realized, and I have not stopped thinking about it since I left the theater. This lovely, emotional piece is an inspiring reminder to fully live without fear or regrets. Rogue Artists Ensemble has done something amazing and poignant yet again in their hyper-real and electrifying Wood Boy Dog Fish.

Dead is dead. Dead is gone.
Dying is good. It means you were alive!

Wood Boy Dog Fish runs through June 24th. Tickets can be purchased here, and get to the theater early to explore what Shoreside has to offer.

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