NEW YORK – Isabella Rossellini is very popular these days with her show that sounds like it should be dull. After all, it’s a scientific theater piece about animals.
“It’s also about sex,” says Rossellini, laughing. “That’s what makes it popular. If it was about the digestive system, I don’t think anyone would enjoy it as much.”
Rossellini, 61, has transformed her 40-odd “Green Porno” short films into an hour-long stage show, giving the actress a chance to go more in depth with some of the animal kingdom’s weirdest inhabitants.
Her two-minute films were a Web sensation, offering morsels about the reproductive habits of insects and ocean life and a clever dose of low-budget filmmaking, including paper costumes.
It was a kick watching the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini talk about the lusty behavior of bugs, shrimp and starfish in her sexy, European accent. “I don’t think I’m bad-looking as a worm or as an anchovy,” she said, and she’s right.
The stage show is structured like a lecture that goes a bit looney – Rossellini’s podium will house various puppets and tricks – she makes three costume changes and some of her short films will be broadcast on a screen. It’s all grounded in hard science – Rossellini is earning a master’s in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College.
Rossellini, who was born with scoliosis, began thinking about the show while recovering last year from an operation to unfuse vertebrae. She had time to kill and a monologue made sense. She’s gotten help on the script by French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere.
The show is at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from Jan. 16-25 after stops in France, central Italy, Switzerland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. (She has memorized it in French, Italian and English). She takes it to Australia in March.
One thing the one-woman show offers is a chance for Rossellini to delve into richer areas, as she does when she notes that recent studies find that hundreds of species display homosexual behavior.
“That seems to be indicating that homosexuality is not against nature. It exists in nature,” Rossellini says. “So maybe our definition of sexuality was too tight.”
The Associated Press got a chance to sit down with the actress, model and “environmental artist” – “if I want to give myself a boring name,” she said – to ask about Darwin, dogs and vegetables.
Q. Why have animals captivated you?
A. I was born with it. It’s like being born with brown hair – you don’t know why you have it. But since I was a little girl I’ve been fascinated. In the streets, I see little babies in strollers and they see a dog and you can see them bending over to look with wide eyes. They’re just 6 months old. I must have done the same.
Q. You’re not frightened to explore weirdness and strange adaptations. Why?
A. The secret to success is not perfection. It’s diversity. We always assumed it was perfection. But if it’s perfection and the environment changes, you’re not perfect any more. Bang! You’re dead.
Q. What about survival of the fittest?
A. Survival of the fittest gives you a sense you have to be fit. But you don’t have to be fit! For example, dogs are a variation of wolves genetically. But dogs aren’t the fittest. Because they’re not nasty, we can take them into our home and live with them. The dog has more success. It’s the fittest given whatever the environment is.
Q. You’re a conservationist, but you don’t beat us over the head.
A. Sometimes when I see my friends who are more militant, they say, “Your message should be more on conservation.” I always say that message is out there pretty clear. I don’t think people want to hear any more that this is the end of the world. I find that message bores me and makes me cringe. I think humor wins people over. I focus on biodiversity so people might say: “Hey, this is a fascinating thing. We should preserve it.”
Q. Do you have any new fascinations?
A. Now we’ve included vegetables because, of course, it’s all the same. We create these categories, as we created male and female. That’s why we don’t have a name for it when it’s in-between. We have created the category of animal and plants, but it’s the same laws of evolution. So, all of a sudden, I’m interested in plants.
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