Historic toy theater meets post-modern digital livestream in Planet of the Grapes Live, Peter Michael Marino’s wacky but meaningful reimagining of the 1968 sci-fi film classic Planet of the Apes. The latest creation by the NYC-based teacher, writer, performer, and producer, who has remained ever-active online throughout the pandemic with his inventive live shows, takes viewers of all ages (well, there is a self-imposed PG rating for a couple of “damns”) on an original adventure that parodies the movie while remaining faithful to its basic plot and enhancing its important didactic messages.
Unlike the ornate mass-produced miniature cardboard replica theater kits popular in European homes of the 18th-19th century, Marino has designed his makeshift sets, props, and characters from everyday household items (using a diverse cast of bottle corks for the human astronauts and grapes for their oppressors), which appear virtually on viewers’ computer, TV, tablet, or smart phone screens. And though he himself works all of the figures and accoutrements with black gloves, magnets, and wires, and voices all of the roles and narration, the format still serves as an inspiration for kids who are watching not only to enjoy his work, but to create and to perform their own shows at home, using their imaginations and what they have at hand.
A co-production of Project Y Theatre Company and PM2 Entertainment, the condensed story is set in the distant future of the year 3978, on an unfamiliar planet on which a space crew from Earth has crash-landed. There they are captured and enslaved by a society of super-human speaking, thinking, and controlling grapes, who have [d]evolved into believing that they are superior and entitled, while the leaders keep the heights of past human civilization off-limits and hidden. A battle for supremacy ensues, as Marino, under the direction of Michole Biancosino, shifts from role to role with ease, distinguishing each character with specific speech patterns and personalities, while keeping them and the settings moving with fluidity and humor.
Each presentation of the solo show is performed live, not taped, and is supported by mood appropriate music by Michael Harren, sound effects, and background chatter and applause tracks of the imagined virtual audience. It’s all a lot of clever fun, but it’s also much more than pure diversion. Marino hones in on the groundbreaking film’s insightful themes of prejudiced classist societies, duplicitous leaders, self-perceived superiority, the destruction of the environment, and the killing of other living creatures on our planet (of which, as a devout vegetarian, I am especially appreciative). So laugh and learn from Marino not to be a mean and hateful sour grape, but a sweet one.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, including an intermission.
Planet of the Grapes Live streams live on weekends through May 15, 2021. For tickets, priced at $25 for general admission, $10 for students, and $40 for a Planet Party Pack (with vegan popcorn, vegetarian chocolate-covered raisins, Grapeheads candy, map with bonus features, and official POTGL sticker), go online.