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by Sam Thielman

Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.

Miguel Jarquin-Moreland
M. Jarquin-Moreland (Photo: Raymond Gniewek)
Karabas Barabas has terrifying hair. His black, electrostatic coiffure givesthe villain of Patta Tsikurishvili's Buratino both gravity and levity, and it sets off his dandyish lace collars with a sort of horrifying propriety -- springy black wires to confront the limp white draperies that sprout from his dark, close-fit suit. Everywhere Barabas (the wonderfully blustery Irakli Kavsadze) moves, he seems to explode; the lackeys in his little troupe cower and flee when he turns bushy eyebrows and huge forehead towards them, and any sudden movement sets his frizzy tresses whirling.

The great thing about Buratino is that Tsikurishvili mines the average child's high tolerance for absurdity and puts it to work, forcing his adaptation of Aleksi Tolstoy's Pinocchio story out the other side of goofy and onward into the sublime. The Barabas character would look like a fool in any other context, but Tsikurishvili and costumer Anastazia Rurikov Simes make him larger than life, as they have done with the rest of the talented cast.

Puppets, mime, elaborate animal costumes -- all the traditional trappings of children's theater are there on a bare stage and working in near-total concert with one another -- something both difficult and admirable, because if dogs can smell fear, little kids can smell disbelief. As Buratino (Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, skilled, but perhaps a little too wide-eyed) made his way through the episodic misadventures of Tsikurishvili's nearly ninety-minute, intermission-less piece, the audience stayed uncannily quiet for a passel of five-to-ten-year-olds.

This is not to say that Buratino has nothing to offer those of us who have left Spaghetti-Os behind. The puppets are wonderful if uncomfortable-looking, with long suffering Catherine Gasta's turtle puppet an impressive full-body contraption.

The entire cast seems to be enjoying themselves -- particularly Greg Marzullo and Irina Tsikurishvili as thieving beggars with animal tendencies who are catty and foxy, respectively. Kavsadze, also the sound designer, overdoes it a little on the music ( it's lovely, but many of the scenes don't need a score behind them).

Buratino isn't a cognac but it is a really good cupcake. It's a treat for kids that mercifully doesn't try to be anything else. Ultimately, if they're prepared to buy it, who am I to disagree? Willful suspension of disbelief is hard to come by these days. Perhaps a young patron in the front row paid the show its highest compliment during the scene in which Buratino's adoptive father Karlo (Michael Spara) looks helplessly around the stage for his son. Unable to stand it any longer, he yelled out, "He went that way!"

by Aleksi Tolstoy
Adapted and Directed by Patta Tsikurishvili
with Miguel Jarquin-Moreland, Michael Spara, Nathan Weinberger, Irakli Kavsadze, Irinia Tsikurishvili, Greg Marzullo, Catherine Gasta, Anna Lane, and Philip Fletcher
Lighting Design: Cherie Siebert
Costumes: Anastazia Rurikov Simes
Sound Design: Irakli Kavsadze
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Classika-Synetic Theatre, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington
Telephone: 703.824.6200
SAT - SUN @ 12:00 PM
From 1/15/05 to 3/06/05
Saturdays and Sundays at noon
Tickets $12 in adv.; $15 at the door.
Reviewed by Sam Thielman
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