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|A CurtainUp Review
Pullman, WA & Gorilla Man
By Amanda Cooper
Pullman, WA by Young Jean Lee
There is a moment in a play's opening monologue, where just enough of the story has been set that you can anticipate where the show is going. As is the case of Young Jean Lee's new play, it is at this moment when you realize that there is no story, and trying to anticipate any onstage action is useless. Yes, characters interact, emotions are shown, but Pullman, WA is purposefully without a foundation, and purposefully with nowhere to go.
With this journey-less setting understood and accepted, appreciation can be had for these three characters' struggle to tell you (yes you) how to live (yes, your life). As might be expected, this is no easy, concrete task and so all of Pullman, WA revolves around this challenge. We hear about fantasies, doubts, dreams, ideas and struggles. And in the true spirit of ambiguous theater, which can often feel like a dance piece done in words, we are given no context for the characters. And this lack of context ultimately minimizes the connection I feel towards them as individual beings.
Are these three characters assholes? Lee seems to think so, but she has luckily given each of them inflections of self-consciousness, self-doubt and defensiveness so that we can make up our own minds. Fortunately or unfortunately, the quality of their onstage performances may also be largely a matter of personal taste. I preferred Pete Simpson's easy onstage demeanor to Thomas Bradshaw's purposeful discomfort. Tory Vasquez's innocent smile did win me over as she began to rake through the audience insulting the unsuspecting.
This production is certainly not theater-made-easy. There are no sets (ok, there are two chairs onstage in a row), no costumes, extremely minimal lighting and movement. Lee is also the director and to say that his work is like a 21st century Samuel Beckett may not be all that fair to either party, but neither would it be inaccurate. Did I have an easy time sitting through show? No. It bounced back and forth from feeling intriguing and humorous, to feeling masturbatory. But did this play leave me interested in Lee's next production, what ever it may be? Yes.
Gorilla Man by Kyle Jarrow
With a circus master of ceremonies flourish (complete with tails and top hat), Kyle Jarrow, playwright, composer, musician and performer, sits at the piano bench. Along with onstage drummer Perry Silver, the two rock out as only two buddies can. But wait, there's more going on here -- a set, and performers, and costumes, and lights. Why, this is a rock musical, and, dare I say it -- a great one at that.
Now what exactly, you may say, makes a rock musical warrant such praise? Well, the standards have to be in line: make-you-want-to-hear-it-again music, touching and humorous story, fully committed cast, and a director who can keep the energy level happening. Ok, so jack-of-all-trades Jarrow may still have some screw tightening to take care of in some scenes and songs (especially his love scenes), but his prolific nature is crazy-impressive (this twenty-five year old has already had a handful of New York theater success stories).
So what's Gorilla Man about? One day adolescent Billy wakes up to find the back of his hands covered with hair. When his mother sees this, she admits to Billy that his father is, indeed, a Gorilla man, and soon enough he will be one, too. As Billy's mother cannot love the monster he is sure to become, she casts him out, and the adventure begins. This is the teenage growing pain struggle made absurd. Laughing is perfectly appropriate, and so is empathy.
Jason Fuchs plays Gorilla boy Billy with a tabula rasa expression that proclaims his innocence. Stephanie Bast as the mother is a notable actress in this role, but more impressive is her "holy crap" voice, which can be both booming and piercing. Burl Moseley and Nell Mooney make up the ensemble, taking on a number of roles. And yes, we do meet The Gorilla Man himself, and Matt Walton plays this macho monster with cartoon-ready emotions.
Though the performers are always a joy to watch, in truth they share the limelight with M.C. Jarrow, who is right at home on stage, guiding us through this silly-sad metaphoric coming-of-age story he has written with charm. Cheers to Habib Azar, whose direction fits easily with the quirky material and fast-paced scenes.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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