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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Monkey Adored

If people descended from apes, that was a hell of a drop. — Sonny Bonobo

It’s not too often that you see an allegory these days, let alone one that actually works, but Henry Murray has pulled it off superbly in Monkey Adored which is enjoying its World Premiere down at Rogue Machine. Its sole human has a supporting, if towering, part. He’s played by an immense puppet and voiced by Ron Bottitta.

The principals are animals: Brown Spot, the dog (alternating David Mauer and Justin Okin), who demonstrates a dog’s key quality, loyalty; Sonny Bonobo, the monkey (Edward Tournier), spry and fickle; Elaine Ostrich (Jennifer Taub), a plump voluptuous personage of no particular antecedent; James Rat (Patrick Flanagan), wily and shrewd; Madeline Kahn, the cat (Amanda Mauer), amoral and sleek; and, finally, Penguinito, the busboy (Ron Bottitta), a large imposing figure who speaks in ponderous platitudes. The scene is Le Café Café and environs. A large screen stretches across the rear wall, across which we see a cat, a monkey and a rat wend their way, introducing the actors who play them. Various projections play across the screen, complementing the minimal furniture. The time is the present and the ominous slant is that humans are trying to invent a serum for radiation sickness. This involves animal testing which Sonny has already been through once, witness the bandage on the back of his head.

Spot is longing for Sonny, who agrees to live with him for a while. The spoiled cat is thoroughly amoral and eventually gives birth to triplets, who look like their fathers, Sonny, Spot and Rat.

John Perrin Flynn directs shrewdly and with an eye to reality. The whole piece falls into a wicked whole, a sad love story that sweeps the viewer along between the laughter.

Stephanie Kerley Schwartz designed both set and costumes with a clear eye. Madeline Kahn is superbly dressed in sensuous black, Sonny’s vest is built for vanity and Elaine Ostrich wears a plume in her hair. They are dressed to express the simmering inner life of the characters.

The end needs work, even for an allegory. Sonny has changed from monkey to human and the dark ending is given a potential uplift by the final speech. It casts a blandness over the production. The cast is spiffy, headed by Edward Tournier as a wonderful monkey. His Sonny with the little boy name and the vanity clothes is spot on. Brown Spot, played in the performance viewed by David Mauer, is faithful to the bitter end. Patrick Flanagan as James Rat slyly creeps around the stage in a trench coat like a corrupt Dick Tracy. Amanda Mauer as Madeline the Cat is quite good but lacks a burnished perfection. Ron Bottitta and Jennifer Taub don’t have a handle on the ends of their characters. Maybe they’re not written yet.

Overall, this allegory moves so swiftly one forgets it’s an allegory. It rings true in the best sense of plunging into the story and dragging the audience with it.

Title: Monkey Adored
Playwright: Henry Murray
Director: John Perrin Flynn
Cast: Penguinito, Mr. Stubb, Lab Tech (Ron Bottitta), Brown Spot (David Mauer & Justin Okin, alternating), Elaine Ostrich (Jennifer Taub), Sonny Bonobo (Edward Tournier), Madeline Kahn (Amanda Mauer), James Rat (Patrick Flanagan).
Scenic and Costume Design: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Projection Design: Adam Flemming
Original Music: Michael Wells
Sound Design: Joseph Slawinski
Puppeteers: David Combs and Linda Hoag
Graphic Design: Stephen Runningen
When: Oct. 8-Nov. 20, 2011
Where: Rogue Machine, 5041 W. Pico, Los Angeles. Reservations: (855) 585-5185.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on October 8.
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