Theater review: Rogue Machine's 'Monkey Adored' at Theatre Theater
Henry Murray's new play, "Monkey Adored," produced by Rogue Machine (the company did his “Treefall” in 2009), is inhabited by animals that behave a lot like human beings — or human beings who behave a lot like animals. Brown Spot the dog (Justin Okin alternating with David Mauer) loves Sonny Bonobo (lithe, charismatic Edward Tournier), the pansexual ape who’s hot for Madeline Kahn, the burlesque kitty cat (sexy, throaty Amanda Mauer). They’d all like to forget that human beings are experimenting on animals, but eventually James Rat (Patrick Flanagan) persuades them to join his resistance movement.
The play starts off waggishly, full of puns — café owner Elaine Ostrich (lovely, mellow Jennifer Taub), “in a fowl mood,” disapproves of Madeline’s order but asks, “What’s one life more or less to you?” — and interspecies sex (monkeys with geckos, rats with cats).
Director John Perrin Flynn is perhaps too faithful to Murray’s early-draft whimsy: James speaks in rhyme; Madeline, in homage to Lili Von Shtupp, the real Madeline Kahn’s character in “Blazing Saddles," replaces Ls and Rs with Ws. (“Wuv is wust.”) These affectations get irritating once the plot gets heavy. After a stunning scene in which a lab technician (David Combs and Linda Hoag’s chilling giant puppet) comes for Sonny, the show devolves into vague moralizing and repetitiveness.
But whenever the production touches on the characters’ enslavement by their instincts, Murray's allegory works beautifully. Brown Spot can’t resist chasing a ball and melts into liquid-eyed devotion at “good boy.” Can love make a dog betray man? A Bonobo be monogamous? A rat turn trustworthy?
Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s costumes (she also did the detailed set) are exceptionally delicious, and the music (Michael Wells’ original compositions plus animal-themed tracks selected by sound designer Joseph Slawinksi) puts the audience in the perfect mood for this frisky, unruly, provocative show.
— Margaret Gray
“Monkey Adored,” Theatre Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 20. $25-$30. Contact: (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Photo: Brown Spot (Justin Okin) and Madeline Kahn (Amanda Mauer) compete for Sonny Bonobo (Edward Tournier) in "Monkey Adored." Credit: John Flynn.