By Tulis McCall Within minutes of entering the stage and swooping her dog Pan, wearing the first costume of the night, up into her arms, Isabella Rossellini tells us, This show is a theatrical conference on the subject of “Can animals think, feel, and have emotions?” That about sums it up.
Rosselini is one smart cookie. According to entries in the program she has either completed or is in the process of completing a Masters in Animal Behavior and Conservation at Hunter College and has received a PhD from the university of Quebec. She is curious. She is fascinated with and the way in which they (and by extension WE) communicate. Years ago the learned men (and they were) dictated that “Animal utterances lack semantics.” Rossellini is on a quest to prove them wrong.
She has been at this long enough to have gained respect from other students and scholars of animal behavior. went so far as to name a new species (with a unique genetalia) after her -“Ptomaphaginus isabellarossellinae.” This beetle’s females come equipped with the ability to select which sperm make it to home base – and so does the duck. Would that humans had that capacity…
A long time ago Aristotle pronounced that every sentient being had a soul: plants, animals and we folks. The plants had one, the animals two and we three. People grabbed onto that idea and created a scale of reverence, “Scala Naturae”. Scholars and religious men picked that apart for centuries. Rosseling takes them all on – and casually mentions that when she discovered that her dog Lola would not go to Heaven because she lacked the prescribed soul, Rossellini was crushed. Not only did she believe her dog had a spare of the Divine, she believed that the two of them were linked. That we are all linked.
She believed from an early age that animals felt all the same emotions she did. She was told when she returned to school that “what I did as child is considered very badly in the scientific milieu, a very serious mistake: Anthropomorphism. I was attributing human feelings to animals.
This could be called the defining moment, because Rossellini has had animals on her mind all her life. She is relentless in the pursuit of their truth. What does singing in unison do for birds. Moving in unison do for geese? What does the cricket trill sound like when slowed down? We ARE linked she tells us. Hence the name of this Circus. She is voracious and insistent. And because this is her passion, she has little trouble passing on the passion to us.
What gets in the way is everything else. The evening is basically a dissertation defense and as such is fascinating. The addition of props, a puppeteer and especially her dog, Pan, is not only unnecessary, but it is distracting. You put an animal on the stage and you best put yourself right next to it, because that is where the audience will be looking. Pan, for her part, is at best uninterested and only perks up when her beloved human touches her. We know this because she wags her tail. Talk about animal behavior.
So yes to all this fascinating knowledge – and it is fascinating – but why not just pull up a couch so that Pan can fall asleep (and demonstrate that behavior) while Rossellini frees herself to demonstrate her very excellent skill as a storyteller. She is an utterly charming presence on the stage. She can afford to keep it simple.
LINK LINK Circus by Isabela Rossellini; directed by Rossellini and Guido Torliona
WITH Isabella Rossellini, Peter Pan the Dog and Andy Byers (for performances April 18-April 26) and Caleb Lane (for performances April 27-May 3).
Set by Andy Byers and Rick Gilbert; Lights by Jason Miller; Costumes and music by Andy Byers.
The production will play April 18 through May 3, 2019 for 14 performances only at the Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College, East 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.For tickets, priced $15–$42, visit HunterTheatreProject.org.