Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Classika Theatre The Monkeys of Danyang

By • Jul 21st, 2009 • Category: Reviews
The Monkeys of Danyang
Classika Theatre
Classika Theatre, Arlington, VA
Playing through August 16th
Reviewed June 19th, 2009

The three protagonists of the current Synetic Theater family show are monkeys — See no Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil. The three antagonists are Chinese farm villagers. The “reasoner,” as he is called in works by classic comic geniuses ranging from Moliere to the Marx Brothers, is The Old Man.

Here’s the problem: the monkeys are stealing food from the villagers. Why? Because the villagers have cut down the forest in which the monkeys foraged. After about a half hour of bickering, pranks and pratfalls, an Old Man comes along. The villagers spot him as a possible problem-solver. They put him through a grueling interview. He demonstrates to their satisfaction that he is the man for the job.

Then the monkeys interview him. They agree to a bargain. If he can trick them, master tricksters that they are, they will do whatever he says.

Playwright/director Nicholas Allen‘s ingenious folklore-based plot really is intriguing. No sense in giving it away. Suffice it to say that both the monkeys and the villagers end up chastened but satisfied.

As The Old Man, Nathan Weinberger makes up in drollness what he lacks in oldness. As the monkeys and the villagers (mask on you’re a chimp, mask off you’re a human) Kateri Chambers, Christina Frank and D. Grant Cloyd are energetic both as chatterers and as slapstick goofs.

As with any show meant for very young children — 10-year-olds would already be too sophisticated for this live-action cartoon caper — there is a lot of repetition. Think “Blue’s Clues.” Think “Dora the Explorer.” When I was going “But . . . , but we’ve already been told that,” the fours, fives and sixes were jumping in and out of their seats with delight.

And yes there is a moral of sorts: Ecological high-handedness can bring grave unintended consequences. But with the help of imagination and fair-mindedness, a win-win resolution is possible. Nothing wrong with that. And the life lesson is laid on with a very light hand.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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