Shenanigans & Monkeyshines: “Planet of the Grapes Live”

Presented by Toy Theatre and co-produced with Project Y Theatre Company 
Written, performed and created by Peter Michael Marino 
Directed by Michole Biancosino
Music by Michael Harren
Screen management by Genny Yosco 

Remaining dates: May 8 – 16, 2021
Streamed over YouTube
Toy Theatre on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

YOUTUBE — We heard about the Zoom science fiction parody play The Planet of the Grapes Live from this American Theatre article written by creator Marino. His article is a deep dive manifesto into his inspiration for the Grapes parody of Planet of the Apes. The movie is famously parodied by cherished agents of pop culture such as The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, Spaceballs, etc. 

Science fiction parodies make for great entertainment. I needed a good chuckle so I purchased a ticket. 

The original Planet of the Apes stars a middle-aged Charlton Heston (who also appeared in the hilarious for unfortunate reasons 2001 remake with son of Somerville Mark Wahlberg) as astronaut Taylor (Heston), Landon, and Dodge awaken from deep hibernation after a light-speed space voyage after crashing onto an unknown planet. They make the uber sensible decision to bathe without posting a lookout shortly after traveling through a vast wasteland. They are captured by bipedal humanoid creatures with simian-like features. The apes pick them off one by one until Taylor is the only astronaut left. 

The simians Zira, Cornelius and Galen learn that Taylor can speak. Dr. Zaius threatens to castrate Taylor unless he explains his origins. They travel to the Forbidden Zone to where the astronaut’s spaceship crashed. There, the posse learns more about the origins of the Apes than they ever dreamed. 

In this pleasant parody, the live-action is dramatized through found-object puppets and DIY scenery.  The Apes are grapes – as in the low-hanging fruit squished to make wine- humans are represented by beige corks. Marino voices all of the characters: grapes, human, male, female, speaking, grunting, etc. 

Plant of the Grapes Live is 95% less nightmarish than Thunderbirds. Some of the grapes have eyes but absolutely won’t scar the viewer like a 1960s TV show. Marino’s use of simple stagecraft to effect film magic is impressive. Humans are sometimes manipulated by magnets to affect weightlessness. An iPad and a mirror create outer space. Very occasionally a human hand moves a bunch of grapes or a set-piece but never without just cause. The show’s Ed Wood-like camp and trash are pure pulpy-goodness. 

The scene transitions could be tighter. Planet of the Grapes’ inter-scene pauses run long. The show is only an hour long. Any pauses are a pause the audience can use to unlock their phones. Marino should consider an assistant or growing a prehensile tail to manage the scene changes. Either is likely during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. 

Screen cap caught by the critic. Not pictured: a black cat attempting to catch the puppets thru the screen. It was adorable.  

Planet of the Grapes Live is grade-A SciFi schlock based on a silly pun for the joy of parody. It’s not for everyone. It is for those of us who love SciFi schlock. 

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