By Tulis Mccall

If you had told me, say, a year ago, that I would be watching a live toy puppet theatre production of a play based on “Planet of the Apes,” I would have tossed you out the window.  If, however, you had said the production was created and featured the talent of Peter Marino, I would have put the date in my calendar – in ink.

I don’t know what Mr. Marino has for breakfast, but I would like to start adding a tablespoon of it into my morning coffee.  The ideas he has come chugging through his brain like the midnight special on 24/7 patrol.  Last year, Marino presented over 75 performances of his interactive, digital live shows “Show Up, Kids!” and “Desperately Seeking the Exit.”

Pandemic Schmamdemic – this guy does not stop moving, or producing, or performing.  For t his show he has chosen Toy Puppet Theatre as his stage. It is a kind of theatre based on the 18th century European entertainment that was sold in kits in the theaters to be brought home, assembled and performed.  Theatre came into the home through puppetry.

For his resource material he went directly to the 1963 book “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle which had a boatload of information that never made it to the screen.  In addition he pulled in some of Rod Serling’s writing that also never made it to the screen.  In the end, what we have is a full-blown parody that wanders off the travelled path as it pleases.

The story follows three astronauts, or as I call them “The Cork People,” who have crash landed on an unknown planet in the year 3978. According to their calculations, they are hundreds of light years from earth, and with the explosion of their ship – there is no going back.  Soon they discover the Grape People who treat them with suspicion and disdain.  They are jailed.  But corks do not go quietly into that good night.  Nooooo….

They escape their captors and head out to the Forbidden Zone to discover hidden secrets of past civilizations.  Along the way, if you pay attention, you will hear Marino’s voice in the scripts.  “You have until the end of this act to make a full confession.”  “We can leave the horses there offstage.”  It is those little tweaks that makes you realize this production knows exactly what it is.

Somewhere in the middle of this story you realize that, although you KNOW these are corks and ceramic grapes, loofah mountains, and sardine cans floating on bubble wrap – you have become involved in the tale.  You are rooting for those heroes and hissing at their foes.  In other words, you are hooked.

The simplicity of the set and puppets is balanced by some serious technical elements – all done on a curling board within the confines of a tiny space.  There is a behind-the-scenes chat in “The Cage” after the show where Marino shows all sorts and conditions of equipment that is impressive – and I remember none of the names of the what’s-its.  All I remember is Peter’s delight showing them off.

Included in the hour-long show is a hilarious intermission of three minutes that you do not want to miss.

The entire production is splendid and riveting.  No pee breaks allowed.  It is a fast paced, smart and intriguing creation of the Marino sort.

“Planet of the Grapes Live” – A Show for ALL Ages

WHO: Created by Peter Michael Marino, Directed by Michole Biancosino, Music by Michael Harren, 
Co-Produced by Project Y Theatre Company

Remaining performances: 
1:00 p.m. EDT Saturday, June 12, 4:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, June 13, 
8:00 p.m. EDT Friday June 18
WHERE: Television, computer, or tablet
HOW MUCH: $10-$25
RUNNING TIME: 60 minutes, with 3-minute intermission