Review: Get Your Stinking Paws on Tickets for "Planet of the Grapes Live"

 Planet of the Grapes Live

Created by Peter Michael Marino

Directed by Michole Biancosino

Presented by Project Y Theatre Company and PM2 Entertainment via YouTube Live

April 16-May 15, 2021

Photo credit: Mikiodo
Even if you've somehow managed never to see 1968's Planet of the Apes, moments of which remain cultural touchstones more than 50 years later, that won't make Peter Michael Marino's Planet of the Grapes Live any less of a blast. Marino reimagines the sci-fi classic as a live hourlong toy theater production, blending the main beats of the film's story and its unintentional humor with some added comedy (yes, there are some grape puns; and yes, at least one of them made us laugh out loud). The show's website includes some great background on toy theater, as well as on the Apes film and the creation of this miniaturized parody, which viewers should make some time to peruse before or after their live Grapes experience.

The plot finds a quartet of astronauts, led by Colonel Taylor (played by Charlton Heston in the original and embodied here by a wine cork with the kind of old-school sci-fi leading man voice that occasionally puts one in mind of Zapp Brannigan) returning from space after a mission that has seen them gone for what they estimate to have been 700 years in Earth time (spoiler, if that still applies: it's been longer). One of the crew has died in cryo sleep, and the others find themselves on what they believe to be an alien planet, where they are soon attacked by the titular grapes. In captivity, Taylor eventually finds affianced grapes Dr. Cornelius and Dr. Zira more sympathetic to him and his attempts to convince the civilized grapes that humans are more than primitive, mute animals, while Dr. Zauis fills the role of antagonist, including in an interlude that echoes the Scopes Monkey Trial. Taylor is also introduced to a human woman, Nova, whose curvier champagne cork body, in a humorous detail, distinguishes her from the straight lines of the wine-cork men. The issues of theocracy, class structures, and the human propensities to self-destructive violence and exploitation of the natural world remain visible in the transition to toy theater parody, and, though the show's intro does encourage viewers to forget about the real world for an hour, it is hard not to see the wine cork characters as subtly reflecting how many people have gotten themselves through the past year.
Photo credit: Mikiodo
Were Planet of the Grapes Live to have played things more seriously (and it does let some of the characters' more portentous pronouncements do the comedic work), it would still be an entertaining watch, its DIY aesthetic not unlike a tiny, toy version of an old Doctor Who episode. The craft on display is impressive and just plain fun to look at, from how the early outer space effects are achieved to the small salt-shaker top-helmets on some of the grapes (others of whom resemble diminutive green aliens) to visually interesting and inventive sets (such as a black-light suffused cave) and transitions. We took the suggestion to watch the show on a large TV and recommend it if you have the option. The music, by Brooklyn-based composer and performer Michael Harren, the palette of sound effects, and details such as crowd noise before the show and at the brief intermission contribute to an immersive atmosphere. (Speaking of intermission, stick around during the interval for a piano medley by a virtuoso grape [music by Michael Andrew] and an offer for viewers from The Wine Minx, as well as to donate to the virtual tip jar.)

People always say that they prefer practical effects, and Planet of the Grapes Live is literally nothing but. So put your corkscrew to work, sit back, and enjoy its craftsmanship, humor, and whatever symbolism you care to read into a world of corks oppressed by caste-bound grapes.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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