Isabella Rossellini's 'Green Porno' looks at mating habits of animals

Bellport resident Isabella Rossellini stars in a one-woman Bellport resident Isabella Rossellini stars in a one-woman show called "Green Porno" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Jan. 14, 2014) Photo Credit: Jody Shapiro

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Isabella Rossellini wants you to laugh.

And then fall in love.

Not with her, but with the animals she portrays in her quirky, one-woman play, "Green Porno," which opened Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The production, based on the Bellport resident's artfully offbeat video clips of the same name, focuses on the mating habits of animals such as the duck and whiptail lizard.

Rossellini, 61, started producing the clips for the Sundance channel in 2008. Two other, similar sets of clips, "Seduce Me" and "Mammas," tackle similar subjects and have also been folded into the play.

The videos, each about two minutes long, are colorful and frank; there are 40 to date.

Rossellini, dressed in every costume from bee to barnacle, aggressively chases after her lovers, explaining the intricacies of sex in each species.

"I have sex several times a day, any opportunity, any female," she said in one clip, dressed head-to-toe as a housefly, her thin wispy wings flapping on her back.

In a short about Noah's Ark, she tells a voice from above -- which questions her gender to see whether it violates the ship's two-by-two strategy -- that she, as an earthworm, should be allowed aboard.

"I am a hermaphrodite," she declares without apology, her face peering out of her pink costume. "I am both male and female. To reproduce, I can mate with another hermaphrodite, or I can segment my body and clone myself."

As a right whale, enveloped in a gray-blue fat suit, she discusses "size."

The 75-minute play is woven together through a monologue delivered by Rossellini. While she makes mention of 67 animals, she focuses on seven.

The actress, who is studying for a master's degree in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College in Manhattan, said the videos and the play are meant to entertain; she doesn't have an overt message.

"There is no intention to be moralistic or tell people how they should behave," she said. "I showed my monologue to some of my professors, and some of them felt I should hint to conservation problems because they are so urgent. So I have added one sentence, but no more than one. I thought, 'Let's fall in love first, then maybe you will want to protect them.' The bombardment about the bad news is so huge and so tiresome too. It's alienating."

Instead, Rossellini hopes to capitalize on the wonderment and humor of the animal world.

Rossellini will tour for months, performing "Green Porno" in Canada, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Belgium, Russia and Australia, among other places, while she continues her studies. She's about halfway through with her degree, she said, noting that it's hard to take more than a class at a time as she balances occasional modeling and acting jobs. In recent years, she's appeared on HBO's "Treme" and NBC's "The Blacklist" as well as in the 2013 film "Enemy," a thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Joe Melillo, executive producer at BAM, said he is thrilled to host the production's New York premiere. The show runs through Jan. 25 (but is closed Monday, Martin Luther King Day).

"This is the most unique theatrical presentation in my 30 years of being the artistic director at BAM," Melillo said. "This is it. No one does this. I've worked with a lot of performing artists and performance artists. No one is dealing with this material. And she's very funny."

Rossellini, who has lived in Suffolk County for 27 years, has long admired the work of legendary British naturalist David Attenborough, who has been chronicling the lives of animals for more than six decades. But she said she has never wanted to compete with him.

While her short films and her play are meant to be scientifically accurate -- she has consulted with several biologists and other experts -- she knew she wasn't aiming at a painstaking documentary, one that would take years to produce.

Instead, she said, she wanted to focus on that one small detail, that one little fact about an animal that jumps off the page in her research.

"It seems like when I read about animals, it is all very interesting," Rossellini said. "But occasionally there is one sentence or something that strikes you as so extraordinary.

"For a long time I couldn't imagine how to do a long film about this . . . small detail. But this is the opportunity. I could write a film about how animals have sex, because everyone is interested in sex. I could make a two-minute film, and it would be very simple: If I were a fly, I could do that, if I was a worm, I would do this."

Rossellini, daughter of film legend Ingrid Bergman and Italian director Roberto Rossellini, doesn't mind laughing at herself. If others consider her Hollywood royalty, it hasn't kept her from carving her own unique career path.

"It's very hard to speak about myself as an image or icon," Rossellini said. "Of course, I don't have any sense of that. I have a sense of who I am: me."

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