By Ilaria Cutolo

Concrete Temple Theatre’s Ernie’s Secret Life, written and directed by Renee Philippi and starring theatre artist Carlo Adinolfi, takes us on a father’s journey of loss, love, and self-discovery. Ernie believes his son, who lives far away, is in trouble. So he decides to build a wooden canoe and embark on a journey to find him. We are immersed in the secret adventure of one man seeking real answers while witnessing deep love for a son he longs to find. It is an open heart letter from a father to a son, striking a universal chord for our complex, confusing, and isolating times. Ernie was conceived during lockdown, bringing into sharp focus these collective feelings.

Ernie uses various stage techniques, adding to the overall magical element while infusing humor and delicate moments of introspection. It rides a fine line between raw emotion and sentimentality, achieving an authentic, shared experience with the audience. Cardboard and wood are used to create the puppets and stage props. They felt oddly two-dimensional, yet strangely alive. At moments, it was like watching a live cartoon while the rhythm and pace were like being lulled along an ocean wave. While there were some dips and stalls in the pacing-my only negative critique, the sea life and various animals come to life thanks to the stealthy and talented cast and crew who make this production a seamless experience from start to finish.

For 65 minutes you’ll be transported inside another person’s childlike and surreal, quirky and dreamy imagination. It is awash in vibrant color and sound creating a mesmerizing and charming experience all at once. At moments audiences are asked questions and advice lending to the “co-journey” feel of the play. We walk and hike with Ernie, take a bus ride to Boston, canoe our way through the sea, and find ourselves visiting the river Styx, adding to the question of what is happening with Ernie. Is he a father in mourning coming to terms with something tragic or is this all a dream?

To add to the experience, at the end of the show, audience members can come to meet the puppets, ask questions, and try their hand at puppet manipulation.

Ernie’s Secret Life: Performed by Carlo Adinolfi, Tau Bennett, Amanda Card, Camille Leigh Cooper, J Hann, Kasper Klop, and Kezia Tyson. CAST: Writer/Director: Renee Philippi; Puppetry & Set Design: Carlo Adinolfi; Original; Music: Joe Phillips; Dramaturg/Lighting & Sound Design: Eric Nightengale; Costumes: Laura Anderson Barbata; Associate Director/Understudy: Emily Batsford; Production Stage Manager: Max Mooney     

Performances will take place January 4–27, 2024 at Dixon Place, located at 161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets, in Manhattan.  Thursday –Saturday at 7 pm with an additional performance on January 8 at 7 pm. Performances on January 13 will take place at 4 pm and 9 pm. Tickets $20, can be purchased at www.dixonplace.org. Suitable for everyone ages 12 and above. Running time is 65 minutes with no intermission.