Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno is weird, funny and educational on the science of animal sex | Comedy | Indy Week

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Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno is weird, funny and educational on the science of animal sex

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There's dark comedy in the violent end of praying mantis intercourse, fascination in frustratingly mismatched duck genitalia, a titillating joy in the knowledge that dolphins do oral—and blowhole. In her stage show, Green Porno, prolific screen actor Isabella Rossellini not only brings offbeat humor to zoological hardcore, she also makes it scientifically educational and, somehow, safe for kids.

"I do like to laugh. But there wasn't any moral intention," Rossellini says. "I could have done the digestive system, which is also very funny, but maybe not as appealing. I just thought sexual because everybody's interested in sex."

Arriving at the Carolina Theatre this week, the show builds on the popular Sundance Channel web series Rossellini wrote, directed and produced: Green Porno on animal intercourse, Seduce Me on courtship and Mammas on motherhood. With a bare-bones budget, she collaborated with puppeteer Andy Byers and co-producer Rick Gilbert, who made human-size creatures from colorful paper and augmented leotards that transform Rossellini into a bee, a shrimp, a duck—a whole menagerie.

"With Rick and Andy, I give the basic solution," she says. "Let's say that I'm a fly and I want to fly. I say, 'OK, I can fly by tipping the camera so it looks like I'm attached to the ceiling.' I am not very technical, so my big inspiration is Georges Méliès, who made the first science-fiction films. Silent movies, to me, are a big inspiration."

But the fanciful staging doesn't take liberties with sound science. Rossellini, an actor perhaps best known from David Lynch's Blue Velvet, has also been undertaking graduate studies in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College. A five-foot-tall, spiraling duck phallus she sidles up to in the show is physically accurate.

"I wanted my films to be scientifically correct, because otherwise they're not funny—otherwise I was going to be a mad old woman who was just talking about whatever came into her mind," she says. "The biggest time I spend is to read and make sure that I understand it scientifically and then digest and retranslate everything into something funny."

The result is delightful mischief. In the videos, Rossellini physically demonstrates the mating habits of scores of creatures, mounting or being mounted by paper puppets. Narrated in a breathy voice on an intimate sound stage, it's funny and weirdly romantic. The live show is more a monologue built around the videos than a stage adaptation of them—although its star does don a few animal costumes onstage.

Rossellini credits Sundance with giving her the artistic freedom to realize Green Porno. Seeing the instant popularity of YouTube in the late 1990s as a proof-of-concept for experimental shorts, Sundance offered filmmakers small budgets to bring their ideas to the screen. Rossellini, who had been mulling over how to turn her interest in animal behavior into a performance, saw her opportunity.

"Generally, when there is less money invested in a project, they allow the artist to take a little more freedom," she says. "Sundance always believed that one of the great things about America is diversity, so it's important to keep the voices of experimental filmmakers because maybe one of these experiments might develop and become something else. This is the case with Green Porno—40 films, a monologue and a book."

It has also become a collaboration with the Durham-based company Burt's Bees. In 2012, Rossellini did a series of whimsical yet informative web shorts called Burt Talks to the Bees as part of the company's campaign to encourage beekeeping and raise awareness about environmental threats to bees. While she continues her graduate studies, she is embarking on a new series of short films on animal cognition—their intelligence, feelings, thoughts and communication practices.

"It's a subject that's full of controversy," she explains. "People say, 'Animals are just full of instinct,' and other people say, 'Oh, my dog totally understands me.' So wherever there is controversy, it's interesting to write."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Knockin' brutes"

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