Photo by Bridgitte Lacombe
`Circus’ links our animal similarities
When Link Link Circus debuts on stage at The Gateway, Isabella Rossellini will have already toured her show in 22 cities. Dressed in a ringmaster’s outfit and holding her dog Morsi, who will portray different animals, the film actress will delve into how much we have in common — the links, that is — with animals in a highly entertaining way. Puppets, home movies and film clips will help propel her performance along, but in the end, it is Rossellini who will play philosophers and others discussing their thoughts on animals.
Dressed in different animal costumes, Morsi’s contribution will be silent but valuable.
The benefit performance, a 75-minute show, is a first-time collaboration for both The Gateway and the Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Center. It takes place on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m., with a talk from Rossellini afterwards, and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 4 p.m. in Bellport.
Rossellini, who resides in Bellport and owns a farm in Brookhaven hamlet, is a board member of Plaza MAC in Patchogue and is donating all proceeds to both nonprofits.
“During the show I have references to theories on if animals can think and feel, and so, with Aristotle, for example, he said there are several souls in the natural world,” Rossellini explained in a phone interview. Aristotle divided the realm of living creatures into three sub realms — plants, animals and human beings — and they all had souls, but with different characteristics.
“Aristotle had an incredible influence in medieval times, that nature can be more and more sophisticated. It was called Ladder of Nature, Scala Naturae, and it was a path from very simple creatures to God,” she added. “It was only Darwin who said we were linked to animals, which was very revolutionary. Darwin said while humans are more cognitive, animals are capable of thinking, reasoning and making decisions.”
Rossellini said she often gets asked if she is an advocate for the environment or a militant.
“Of course I believe in climate change, but I don’t do this because I want to convince people of my belief. I do it as storytelling,” she said.
If you’ve seen Rossellini’s “Green Porno” films that began in 2008 on the Sundance Channel, they are charming, humorous takes on animals’ sex lives, including, for example, a praying mantis. (Females selectively eat smaller males after copulation. Eeek!)
In 2013, Rossellini produced “Mammas,” a playful, science-based look at the animal world and how they raise their young.
She played 10 animal moms for that one, including the ciclet fish, which incubates eggs in its mouth. The costumes were all to die for, colorful and beautifully made by Parisian artisans. But, as she pointed out in her segments, not all moms were maternal; cute hamsters have been known to eat their babies because they have to calculate their strength and be survival savvy of what they can take care of.
As her films were about animals’ sex lives, “this premise is what I can offer from the waist up, that animals can think and feel,” she said. “Since I’m an entertainer, I was afraid of talking just about animal intelligence. It’s easy to make people laugh and the ultimate goal is to deliver information in the most amusing way.”
While you’ll be laughing, you’ll also be learning. Rossellini took close to two years to write the script, which, of course, includes factual science. “I had to translate it and make it funny,” she said.
The 20 cities she toured the show in include the Baryshnikov Arts Center last year, which got a New York Times nod. It was a pretty busy schedule. “Maybe the next one I write will be for another actress,” Rossellini added with a laugh.
Rossellini grew up in Rome. Her parents, filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and actress Ingrid Bergman, had farm animals and their house was surrounded by farms.
But her animal interest was really piqued with the 2002 University of California Press book, “Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can’t Learn About Sex From Animals,” by Marlena Zuk and other women biologists. They took a closer look at Darwin’s altruism theory that equated mothers with self-sacrifice. Zuk became a consultant for Rossellini’s “Mammas” film.
The same team that worked on “Mammas” was tapped for this production. While her ringmaster and nude fat costumes were designed and executed by Fanny Karst, her “Green Porno” collaborators Rick Gilbert and Andy Byers designed the set, props and dog costumes; Byers chose the music.
Morsi, who will be referred to as Peter Pan, will be dressed as a chicken, a dinosaur, a lion, a bee, a sheep and an elephant.
Even the evolution of Morsi’s name has charm. Rossellini said she was called Darcy at the shelter. Rossellini changed it to Morsi, which means “morsels (of food)” in Italian.
Besides writing films about animals, Rossellini practices what she preaches. She purchased a farm in Brookhaven hamlet in 2012, consisting of 27 acres with 20.8 acres set aside as a conservation easement to the Peconic Land Trust. She has also been attending Hunter College for a degree in animal behavior and conservation (she gets her degree this May) and, along with raising vegetables via Early Bird Farm owner Patty Gentry, who rents land there, began raising bees for their honey and heritage chickens for their eggs in 2016. Photographer Patrice Casanova was called on to chronicle the poultry babies from chickhood to adulthood. Rossellini wrote a book about it and Courtney Pure has animated the drawings from it for the show.
Rossellini will discuss her experiences with the chickens and their characteristics. They do have personalities.
A tour of her farm is priceless. A chicken or two will follow her, a group of turkeys with their plumage erect are in the mix and gobble collectively if you laugh, and Pinocchio, her other dog, has a habit of running after the guinea hens.
Alas, Pinocchio’s friendliness has banned him from an Actor’s Equity card.
“He would go up to everyone in the audience,” Rossellini laughed. “I tried.”
“The dog we use in the show, Morsi, was rescued about a year and a half ago,” Rossellini said. “She’s a mutt, about 5 or 6, and was trained by Bill Berloni.” Berloni heads up William Berloni Theatrical Animals and is known for his training of rescue animals for stage, film and television. Morsi worked as an extra in “Annie” in Philadelphia; she was among the dogs threatened by the dogcatcher.
“Not all animals can be actors. It has to be in their nature,” Rossellini explained. “The most important trait of an acting dog is to be absolutely concentrated on you and that they want treats. I didn’t know how to make the dog unafraid of the microphone, the lights. We got her in North Carolina because Bill had to find the right dog. We needed a small dog — she’s 10 pounds — to travel with on the plane.”
For tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The box office is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 215 South Country Road, Bellport. Or call 631-286-1133.
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