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'Link Link Circus' Explores Deep Connection Between Animals And Humans


A one-woman, one-dog show is now open in New York at the Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College. It's already drawn raves on the road. "Link Link Circus" is a night of comic monologues, home movies, animations and impersonations that explore the link between animals and humans, especially the intelligence and emotional lives of animals. It stars a dog named Peter Pan, whose stage name is Pan, as various animals from ducks to elephants. Pan's co-star on stage and in life is Isabella Rossellini...


SIMON: ...The acclaimed star of films that include "Blue Velvet," "White Nights," "Death Becomes Her," "Big Night" and, of course, she is a voice in "The Incredibles 2." Pan is resting, as big stars need to do, but Isabella Rossellini is in our New York studio. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROSSELLINI: Thank you for being here (laughter).

SIMON: Now you - you're working on a master's degree in animal behavior at Hunter.


SIMON: But you're doing that because of a lifetime of interest in animals.

ROSSELLINI: Yes, I was always interested in animals. My father gave me a book called "King Solomon's Ring" by Konrad Lorenz, who won a Nobel Prize in 1973, being the founder of animal behavioral studies. And it was literally - has - a little lamp went on my head, and I thought, this is what I want to do. I always was a child that loved animals.

SIMON: The home movies that are in the show are very touching - a little girl, her dogs, her goats, even a monkey at one point. Then, of course, you see the parents and go, oh, my god. That's Ingrid Bergman. That's Roberto Rossellini.

ROSSELLINI: (Laughter).

SIMON: That's where your relationship with animals began - in person.

ROSSELLINI: Yes. I mean, my parents - my mom, of course, was Ingrid Bergman - was a - for - maybe the younger audience doesn't know it. She was a - won 3 Oscars. She worked with Hitchcock, with Fleming. She did a classic film called "Casablanca" that most people have seen. My father was a very influential director after Second World War and sort of showed me the path of following something that was my passion.

SIMON: I don't know how - I don't know a nice way to say this to Isabella Rossellini. You do an awful lot of mating in this show.

ROSSELLINI: (Laughter).

SIMON: You're always mating as a different animal. Now, many of the scenes are broadly comic, you know, like the one featuring a whale. But I have to tell you; the mating of the duck was truly upsetting to me.

ROSSELLINI: Oh, was it upsetting? I think I'm full of admiration, actually. So I have to explain what happens to the duck. So the duck is - really has a lot of male jump on her and trying to mate with her. So evolution endowed her with a very labyrinthic vagina. I don't even know that it's called a vagina. They must have another name for it, but that's what it is - an - a female organ of reproduction that has many canal that she can control. So if she penetrated by the man she - by the male that she doesn't want to be the father of her ducklings, she sends him to a dead end. And that's how she controls fertility and who is - so we thought that courtship was finishing - once you accept mating, courtship was the moment where you decide to accept that male or not. But now we are seeing that there is more strategies.

SIMON: Please tell us about your four-legged co-star.

ROSSELLINI: My four-legged co-star - her name is Peter Pan, Pan on the - she is a rescue. I asked Bill Berloni, who is a man who trains dog for Broadway...

SIMON: This is a Broadway legend.

ROSSELLINI: It is a Broadway legend. And I explained to him what I wanted. I wanted a dog that was small enough so she could travel with me on the plane 'cause we took the show to many, many different cities. I also wanted a dog who had the distinct signs of domestication - patchy coat, floppy ears.

SIMON: At one point, you hold Pan like a baby and coo to her. And you turn to the audience and say, I know what you're thinking.

ROSSELLINI: Yes. I pick her up and talk to her, as we often talk to our pets, with high-pitched voice - hello, how are you? That's a nice little doggy. And then I feel like the audience is looking at me with strange eyes. And I say, I know what you're thinking. Here is Isabella, maternal instinct going astray. And she talks to her dog if it is a baby. It's typical of old women like her. It's pathetic.

And then I say to the audience, well, you are wrong. It's not my fault. It could be the fault of evolution because there has been studies about evolution. And, of course, we have probably made the wolf to become a dog, but the wolf also might have domesticated us. It is a process that went back and forth, and it has been 15,000, 20,000 years old.

Another possibility is a study done by Professor Eugene Morton. And he studied the voices - the intonation of birds and mammals. So for example, any sound that goes from down to up is always to express the light. It's not threatening. (Vocalizes). And all animal - they might not have it. (Vocalizing) is the human sound, but a bird might chirp up or an - a dog might go (vocalizing). That is always to indicate there is not a threat. But if your voice is loud and low and is a staccato - huh, huh, huh - that's always a threat. So the Morton law is maybe the language that we share with animals.

SIMON: I have to ask you a Lancome question.

ROSSELLINI: Of course.

SIMON: For years, you were the face of Lancome.


SIMON: And then, as I have heard the story, they said to you one day, this has been great, but...


SIMON: ...You're pushing 40.

ROSSELLINI: Exactly. So I...

SIMON: But - there is a but to this.

ROSSELLINI: But there is a but. I'm back at 67. So I was very surprised when they got me back. When I turned 40, Lancome said that women dream to be young. And although my campaign was very successful with me, they didn't think I could continue the campaign because a woman of 40 cannot represent women's dream. And advertisement is about the dream, which was to look 20.

So I accepted it very sadly because I loved working with Lancome, and then 23 years later, they called me back. Now there is a woman CEO, and I think that made a difference. I think she said, you know, women of all ages - all of women want to be elegant and sophisticated. And I - we want you back because you have to represent that voice. Yes, we also have anti-age cream, but we also have creams and makeup for everybody to have fun, and you can tell that story better than anybody.

SIMON: At one point, King Solomon's Ring...


SIMON: Of course, you know the story from when your father gave you the book. King Solomon's ring would enable us to hear what animals were saying. And you get King Solomon's ring, and you put it on. But the show suggests maybe we don't really want to hear (laughter) what animals are saying.

ROSSELLINI: I was - there was a study, a fascinating study about a scientist that said, but if we were able to talk to animals - first of all, their perception of the world is completely different. We only have five senses. They have more senses or different senses. The world for them is smell - for us is sight. So how do we communicate even if we talked? And so I want to give a little glimpse of that. So the play does end with me wearing the King Solomon's ring. And finally, I can speak to the dog - Pan - but Pan talks dog. She says, can I smell your butt? - 'cause that's the first thing.


SIMON: Isabella Rossellini and Pan star in "Link Link Circus" at the Frederick Loewe Theatre in New York. Thank you so much for being with us.

ROSSELLINI: Thank you so much for having me.


SIMON: Yes, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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