Edinburgh Fringe 2021
This quirky, clever parody of society presents grapes as human-like characters who must deal with intruders from another world.
Rod Serling’s music swirls in my head as I enter the strange planet that may be the Twilight Zone…or are we on the Planet of the Apes? Wait – the characters are made of cork and there are no humans as we know them. Hmm….This is going to be an adventure! Kids, buckle up!
New York City writer/performer and Fringe veteran Peter Michael Marino takes us to the year 3978 in a strange planet where the grapes act as humans and rule with precision. In this futurist world, there is no room for original thinking or action. There is a defined class system and a clear sense of entitlement from the grape characters. The grapes are ruled by the sacred scrolls, which set down the rules many years prior, resulting in blind obedience. The principle of evolution undermines the cornerstone of the faith of the grapes, so there is no acknowledgement of the past or vision for the future.
Suddenly their world changes when three astronaut characters crash land from space, believing that they will be able to run the planet where they landed. The grapes capture, examine, and enslave these unknown creatures, in hopes of controlling them. We meet the archeologist who wants to study these new beings and the mean jailkeeper. Throughout the story, we observe behaviour that reflects some of our current societal challenges: discrimination and lack of understanding of others who are different; a clear class system; science versus religion; acceptance of others.
Using Victorian era’s Toy Theater movement and live digital media, the characters begin to feel life-like, despite the fact that they are built from corks and plastic grapes. The tiny characters were inspired by the early 18th century Toy Theater movement, where adults and children assembled mass-produced paper replicas of popular plays that included the script, stage, scenery, and characters. The shows were performed on tiny stages, with the handlers wiggling the characters as they gave voice to them. Marino has brilliantly replicated the style. The movement, voicings and interaction of his grapes and corks, all “acting” in creative sets, engage us thoroughly in the story, enough that they become human-like in our viewing. It is a new approach to puppetry that is very effective in the telling of the story. The style can also be an inspiration for parents to create tiny theatres at home with their kids.
Creating children’s theatre that adults will enjoy is challenging. Marino has more than met the challenge. The story can be perceived as a simple survival adventure, but the messages are much deeper. Some humour throughout is definitely directed to adults, starting with the title “Planet of the Grapes” as a play on the famous film, “Planet of the Apes”. There are double entendres and puns throughout the dialogue. I won’t spoil all of them but some of my favourites are: “grapes gonna whine (wine)” when one is left behind; the “wrath of grapes” when the grapes are considering experimental surgery on the astronauts; “sour grapes” and more. I was definitely smiling and often laughing throughout.
The play is directed by directed by Michole Biancosino, who has worked with Marino on two past projects and presented two seasons of “Trump Lear” at the Edinburgh Fringe. Michael Harren’s music effectively sets the tone for the scenes and enhances the actions of the piece. The actor’s sound effects range from horse clops to birds, wind, danger noises and more. Marino’s voicings of the characters are convincing and charming.
In the end, Marino challenges us to think about the past and the future. Why must knowledge stand still? Must there be contradiction between faith and science? Does being the loudest voice in the room entitle one to authority? How can we be accepting and move forward as a society? These are good discussion points for parents and children. Marino’s clever writing and brilliant staging bring an important story forward for families to share. Plus – it’s fun and funny! It’s a must-see family experience.