Writer-director Daisuke Tsuji's exegesis on life in the monkey world features wonderful choreography, inspired costumes and makeup, upbeat music, and terrific actors who have mastered every detail of primate behavior, from body language to verbal expression. Unfortunately, Tsuji's script, which is jumbled and wandering, does not match the production's designs and acting.
The play is set in a world of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, who for unexplained reasons desperately aspire to become human. At the center of the struggle is Monkey Boy (Randy Thompson), who is on the fast track to becoming human. He is alternately helped and hindered along the way by his Monkey Father (Fidel Gomez), Chimp Professor (Christopher Young), and of course Monkey Girl (Jen Bailey), who is desperate for him to father her babies. On the periphery is Human Girl (Olivia Choate), who wants to make the journey from human world to monkey world.
What ensues, predictably, is a parody of human social life, replete with commentary on war, sex, politics, and academia. Although some of the scenes are quite funny—especially with Young as the stuffy professor—most are flat and cartoonish, with little genuine insight into the human condition. What keeps the evening moving is the exuberance of the cast as it performs several high-energy dance numbers.
Tsuji has certainly latched on to a number of interesting ideas here. Too many, in fact. Politics, sex, parenthood, war—the play lurches from idea to idea without any strong central narrative. Although Tsuji hints at the Rousseauian ideal of unspoiled nature, he never takes this anywhere. Why the monkeys want to become human or what is in it for them is never clear. Their struggle therefore becomes futile, robbing a tantalizing premise of much of its power.
Kudos to choreographer Anne Rene Brashier, costume designer Priscilla Watson, scenic designer James W. Sudik, mask designer Miles Taber, and sound designer Jonathan Snipes, as well as actors Bailey, Young, Choate, and Dee Amerio Sudik for excellent performances.
Presented by the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica. June 25–July 18. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m. www.latensemble.com.