'Pinocchio' debuts on SMS stage

Traveling Lantern Theatre Company performs for children

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  • Photo by viktoria-Leigh Wagner From left, Gabriella Moen, 7 and Karli Matthews, 6 of Wantage happy to meet the silly puppet Pinocchio, played by Samantha Evans, 22.

  • Photo by viktoria-Leigh Wagner Samantha Evans as Pinocchio, who is being hustled by the sly Mr. Fox, played by Maxwell Bennett.

  • Photo by viktoria-Leigh Wagner Pinocchio, played by Samantha Evans, has just been cheated out of his gold coins by the wicked Mr. Fox, played by Maxwell Bennett.

Each year, the the Sussex-Wantage Friends of the Library sponsors a free children's program during the spring break, this year bringing a two-man show production of "Pinocchio."

"Typically the program is a literature-based play or interactive puppet show," said Friends Vice President Meg Gunmere.

This is Samantha Evans' and Maxwell Bennett’s first season traveling with the theater company after having graduated from Emerson College in Boston each with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting.

About 200 members came out to see the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company's interpretation of "Pinocchio," written in collaboration with the company's Managing and Artistic Directors, K.B. Mercer and Doren Elias.

With a show repertoire of 23, the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company is based out of Oregon.

"I found out about auditions for this show on Backstage.com, which has listings for all different New York auditions, and it turns out the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company ended up contacted me because they needed a replacement cast for this season,” Bennet said.

Evans said when Bennet was hired, he needed a partner and asked her to join him. With two rehearsals for "Pinocchio" and one for Johnny Appleseed in March, the pair will perform and travel around the northeastern area until the end of May.

“Samantha and I work well together,” Bennett said. “We both live in Brooklyn so we’ve traveled all up and down Manhattan into Harlem, the Bronx and Staten Island, and this is our second time in New Jersey. We’ve been to upstate New York and Connecticut, too.”

Bennett and Evans perform shows between five and 10 times in one week.

“Pinocchio is about a wooden puppet made by Italian toymaker Geppetto, who longs for a son,” said Evans, who plays the part of two puppets, Pinocchio and Columbine. “As Pinocchio makes his journey, he encounters some different characters to teach him right from wrong.”

“Pinocchio makes a lot of mistakes like lying and running away from home, but receives help from his father, the Talking Cricket and the Blue Fairy,” said Bennett, who plays Geppetto, a Policeman, the puppet Punchinello, the sneaky Mr. Fox, a shark and the conniving Stromboli, who all try to stray Pinocchio from the right path. “For a while, he’s greedy and selfish, but eventually learns what it takes to become human.”

This version of Pinocchio features a shark versus the traditional whale.

Ava, 4 and brother Roman Sorrento, 6 of Wantage enjoyed the performance with their mother, Alison Sorrento.

“I was scared when the shark came and ate Pinocchio and his daddy," Roman said. "I’m not scared of tiny sharks that you can see in aquariums, though. They’re only as big as me.”

Twins Leslie and Alyssa Bittner, 7 of Wantage also saw the show together.

“I liked when the fairy came and told Pinocchio about lying," Leslie said.

Their friend Ariana Barillari, 7, also of Wantage, thought Pinocchio was a funny character.

“The best part was when the Blue Fairy turned Pinocchio into a real boy,” she said.

“I love what I do,” Bennett said. “Seeing the reactions from the kids is so worth it and very rewarding. Every show is different, and Sam and I have so much fun on stage.”

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