*published on April 15, 2014 in The Edge
The premise for this 60-minute one-man show is so fascinating that the play could prove difficult to live up to the evening’s backstory. “Extraordinary Extremities” is written and directed by Renee Philippi, who created the magical, “The Whale.”
This piece is designed and performed by solo-performer and puppeteer, Carlo Adinolfi. Add to this the lovely music composed by Lewis Finn and performed on stage by cellist Jeanette Stenson.
Author Philippi attempts to mesh the inspiring story
of Hugh Herr, the biomedical engineer whose legs were amputated after a climbing accident, and who now designs technologically advanced artificial limbs. The story aired on NPR and featured Herr as enthusing that he has over 20 different pairs of feet. “I feel fortunate that I can always look forward to having better and better feet,” he stated in his “Fresh Air” interview entitled, “The Double Amputee Who Designs Better Limbs.”
So artists and collaborators, Philippi and Adinolfi took this concept of many feet and tried to cobble (pun intended) together a tale of Geppetto, the woodcarver best known for making Pinocchio, into a tale of three mythic Greek tales, all with a hero who has different sets of legs. Are you with me?
What the audience sees on stage at the adorable SoHo Playhouse on Vandam Street (readers take note this is NOT the SoHo Rep, which is further downtown) is a complicated tale with very little script and lots of wonderful, imaginative props and stage scurrying. The children, teens mostly, seemed to laugh and love the madcap, crazy professor approach to pulling strings from hither and yon to make waves flow on the puppeteer’s workbench as he simultaneously bemoans having to now “do it all” as his beloved wife Donna has recently passed away.
The myths told in the briefest outlines are Andromeda and Perseus, Menelaus and Helen of Troy and finally a dive into a painted underworld with Orpheus and Eurydice. In every case the hero is outfitted with new legs, ingeniously clamped with mathematical compasses, or wooden hammers and metal extensions that shoot out and allow him as Orpheus to descend into the underworld to save his beloved.
The overarching theme is that in our modern over-charged world, we all wear so many hats and feet. We must all soldier on whether with our partners and helpmates or finally alone, and we can never give up.
That is an admirable theme and the attempted knitting of myth, reality and performance works on occasion, but the show is scant on words and too long on fussing without a full-throttled payoff. But golly we could all use some of those super exchangeable legs, for the days when our own just won’t carry us another step.
“Extraordinary Extremities” runs through May 31 at the Concrete Temple Theatre at the Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street in Manhattan. For information or tickets, call 212-691-1555 or visitwww.sohoplayhouse.com/event/0b01423ed6f716bdca8ab58e40d5dbaa/Extraordinary-Extremities